Europe 2017 Tour Updates

Elektra toured Europe along the south coast of France to Barcelona in Catalonia from July 20-30, 2017, where they performed at the 11th World Symposium on Choral Music – one of 24 choirs invited from around the world to perform! Visit this page for updates from the road, posted by 1st soprano and Board member Danica Kell.


6 weeks after our return from Europe, second alto and long time Elektra singer Elisabeth Finch shared her reflections on the trip. 


A tax advisor performs with an amateur choir on the world stage, and learns a lot 

Elisabeth Finch

Partner, Transfer Pricing at PwC Canada

In July I sang in three extraordinary musical performances. While singing is not something I do for a living, I’ve learned a lot that does translate to my ‘day job’ so I’m writing this in case others are interested in the power of our pastimes to teach us something about how we approach our work.

What you might glean from this story:

  1. We should not exhaust ourselves, but if we do, our bodies will do what’s necessary to make us stop and rest.
  2. Creating the conditions to have a peak experience is worth the effort – especially if you understand the power of the experience to impact your performance in other areas of your life.

These performances were the culmination of months of learning and rehearsal, and while I was expecting to have a wonderful experience, performing on the world stage (at the World Symposium of Choral Music, in Barcelona, with Elektra Women’s Choir), I was totally unprepared for the depth and breadth of it. It was an experience that went beyond the action of singing, beyond the process of listening to those around me so that we could sing as one, and beyond my personal response to what our Artistic Director, Morna Edmundson, asked us to do. 

A month later, with the distance and perspective of time-passed, I have found some insight into what I experienced. Many times over the last month I have responded to the question “how was Barcelona?”, by sharing a few bits and pieces of this story. Now it’s time to capture the insights that I’ve discovered as I’ve processed what I experienced – physically, emotionally and mentally. 

First, I now understand that I had a ‘peak experience’ – a phenomenon first defined by the psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1964 work Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences, as 

“moments of highest happiness and fulfillment”.

Maslow also connected peak experiences with self-actualization – the process of growing and developing as a person in order to achieve individual potential – a well understood psychological need. So now I understand why my peak experience is giving me a lot, well beyond the moment itself. I also think that the ‘peak’ was perhaps made more intense by some of the valleys that preceded it, something that I will expand on later.

What is particularly fascinating for me is that while I am an amateur chorister, I am a professional advisor – a partner in an accounting firm, a leader of teams – and I aspire to be (and search for ways to be) an inspiring, effective and inclusive leader. In doing some background reading as I write this, I’ve found a curious, and relevant connection from my peak experience to my aspiration in leadership: in the later part of his career, in the late 1960s, Abraham Maslow became an advisor on leadership to corporations and developed his theory of enlightened management. He wrote this in 1969:

 “So, if you like human beings, if you like to see them grow; if you think they have a higher nature that can be cultivated; if you experience real satisfaction from the growth, happiness, and self-actualization of other people; if you enjoy their pleasure; if you feel brotherly or sisterly toward them and share their realm of discourse, then you will almost inevitably create certain kinds of social organizations or systems. In contrast, authoritarian “bosses” reject any sense of kinship with the “bossed,” with pawns, and with their supposed inferiors.” 
One of my team referred to me (lightheartedly) as his ‘boss’ the other day – now I understand why I found this so troubling! And now I understand that perhaps my leadership aspiration is to be an enlightened leader, Maslow-style.
So, here I will share some gems from this peak musical experience, and what led up to it, just in case there is something here to inspire others. 
My body and mind are a terrifyingly powerful combination
I work in corporate tax. In Canada, June is corporate ‘tax month’. June 2017 was a great one for our practice but draining for my team, and for me personally. I came into June less physically fit that I am used to, and then went flat out, with my team. Towards the end of June I tried to run a half marathon but exhaustion forced me to walk much of it. This was a sign, which I ignored (well, I had to, there was work to do…). June passed and almost right away I flew to the UK for my niece’s wedding (at which I sang – somewhere I fitted in preparation for that because I am really not a soloist). I spent just 6 nights in the UK because I had to get back to Vancouver for the rehearsals that were a necessary part of the preparation for Elektra’s European tour. But I had only 7 nights back in Vancouver, for rehearsals, and work, before I was scheduled to fly to Europe with the choir. 
My body rejected this brilliant and seamless plan.
Two days after getting back to Vancouver it started to shut down. I went to bed with a bit of a ‘croak’ and woke up silenced. No voice. At all. It wasn’t a dimmer switch that had been turned, it was the mute button. I went to brunch and whispered, a bit, which I could tell was a really bad idea, so I stopped. I went to work and wrote notes instead of whispering. I gargled various things (liquid calcium, anyone?). And went to rehearsals to listen, because that is what you do – if you’re not well enough to sing, you sit out and at least take all the notes you need to, hanging on every word of our brilliant Artistic Director.
I didn’t sleep much at all during this six week period – June madness, UK, jet lag, Canada, jet lag, a whole load of stress and then the fear (increasing terror, actually) of my voice not coming back. Having less than four hours sleep a night was so normal that I thought it was normal. It took a dear friend to make me go to the doctor, revealing a sinus infection which was, just maybe, taking out my vocal chords.
And so to healing. Antibiotics. Sleep (on the plane to Amsterdam – finally some self-care – I invested in some extra leg room). Rest, and more rest. And wisdom from those around me. The brilliant Morna assured me that if I rested, my voice would be back for Barcelona. The lovely lady in the market in Aix-en-Provence recommended Miel de Sapin for mal a gorge. So I did what I was told, checked out of the planned tourism (and missed Elektra flash-mobbing the Palais du Papes in Avignon), drank Miel de Sapin with everything, did front of house for our two concerts in France, looked after purses, fetched water and made myself useful (because although uncharacteristically quiet, at least I could be useful, right?) 
Morna was, happily, typically, right. Two days before our main concert in Barcelona I was able to rehearse and had most of the notes I needed. Oh, the joy of singing, when I’d been silenced for 10 days! And in Barcelona on July 27, my voice was not only back but utterly rested, smooth and flowing. I hadn’t missed a moment of rehearsal and my brain was smart enough to slot back into my spot in the back row with everything memorized and instructions in place. And I gazed at Morna as she guided us through the most spectacular concert in the most spectacular concert hall (in the world?) – the Palau de la Musica Catalana, in Barcelona, with an audience of the world’s choral conductors, choristers, composers and choral fans. 
It was incredible. (There is a recording if you’re interested.)
What I learned: Our bodies will only take so much exhaustion, and then they will pick the most effective way of shutting us down. I’m sure that if I’d been planning on running a marathon my body would have pulled a muscle. But I was going with Elektra Women’s Choir as an invited choir (one of only 24) to the World Symposium of Choral Music, so my body and mind collaborated to take my voice away – the only way they were going to get me to pay attention to my health, and get some much needed rest.
The power of a shared inspiration 
Our final performance was to open the final concert of the Symposium. Elektra was invited to perform for just 10 minutes and Morna took this chance to showcase the work of our accompanist and ‘composer-in-our-midst’, Dr Stephen Smith. Stephen knows Elektra’s ‘voice’ so well that he writes music that is, literally, and perfectly, made for us. 
The two pieces we were to perform are pieces that we know inside and out. We have performed them many times, and rehearsed them many, many more. We have had them both memorized for previous performances, so that was not a concern for this one. But our sound check, scheduled for just 30 minutes, and a full 5 hours before the concert, was very late starting and then definitely not smooth. While Stephen, uncharacteristically, took a moment to tell us how much he appreciated how beautifully we were singing his piece ‘Consider the Lilies’, I left the stage anxious about our preparedness for what felt like the pinnacle of our ‘test’ in Barcelona – to close the Symposium leaving the world’s choral conductors in no doubt about Morna’s stature in the global choral community and amazed by Elektra’s ability to move its audience with a stunning choral performance. 
A group of eight of us headed to Gaudi’s Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, having booked an entrance spot at a time that took advantage of the rare gap in our schedule and our proximity to this particular ‘heart’ of Barcelona. This is a building that I had only ever seen from the outside – a proper visit was top of my ‘to do’ list for our stay. 
And I was, quite simply, blown away by the beauty of the place. A tour of the towers of the Nativity Facade revealed the stunning intricacy of the decorations, including a close up view of the Tree of Life, decorated with lilies, fashioned from stone and vividly painted. The view of the same facade from ground level provided the context for this decoration, and the doors, covered in intricate leaves and creatures formed from metal, invited me into the forest within. 
As the interior was revealed, and the forest of columns (with splayed, open tops like the branches of trees) framed the most stunning stained glass I have ever seen, splashing and spraying brightly coloured sunlight over the cool, pale stone, I found my inspiration. I knew then that I would be able to perform ‘Consider the Lilies’ with all the love I had in me – but what about everyone else? As I wandered the Basilica, I gradually became aware of just how many Elektra singers were in the building with me. Not just the group that I had come with, but many, many more…. and Stephen as well. As I realized this I became certain that we would be just fine on stage in a few hours and that this collective experience and inspiration from the natural beauty of a very unnatural building would be an important part of that. 
A few hours later, before going on stage, Morna ‘read’ the group perfectly and said exactly what was needed to focus us. On stage, we did everything that Morna asked us to and something very magical happened. We really sang as one body, one being, and I found it effortless and almost subconscious. I can’t really describe what it was, only how it felt: Transcendent. Magical. Glowing. Joyful.
It left me dissolved in tears once I left the stage, but they were certainly tears of joy – nothing else.
What I learned: This was a peak experience, and I will be open to, and work towards, having many more. I’ll also be open to the possibilities of self-actualization in my efforts to be an inspiring, effective, inclusive leader in my work. And I’ll read more Maslow!

Saturday, July 29th

What a whirlwind this tour has been. We’ve made some wonderful memories both musical and otherwise. 

Our last full day in Barcelona began with a leisurely morning and a shuttle to L’Auditori for a sharing session with a women’s choir from Japan, the Aeolian Singers, who Morna visited two summers ago. We sang a song for each other (Elektra sang “The Valley” and they sang Casals’ “Nigra Sum”), and then workshopped some songs together. We brought along Jeff Enn’s Da Pacem, which was very in with the Symposium’s “Colours of Peace” theme, and they brought along an arrangement of “Sakura, Sakura”. 

Elektra and Aeolian Singers!

We also sang Stephen Smith’s “Consider the Lilies” together, which was a very moving experience. After the session, we also had the exciting opportunity to meet one of Elektra’s famous composers, Bernat Vivancos. We performed his arrangement of “Les Anges de Nos Campagnes” at this season’s Chez Nous, and have sung his “Nigra Sum” in previous years. It was absolutely delightful to have a chance to chat with him. 

Elektra with Bernat Vivancos!

Bernat and Morna

After the sharing session, we had a few hours to ourselves before meeting backs up for our soundcheck in the beautiful L’Auditori performance hall.  After the soundcheck, many singers visited the inimitable Sagrada Familia. There are truly no words to describe this building!

In the evening, we met up once more for our final performance, at the closing concert of the Symposium. We opened the concert with Stephen Smith’s “Consider the Lilies”, followed by his “what i want”. It was a really proud moment for us to bring these songs that we love so much to an international audience.  

Next up was Ensemble Vine from Japan, who we had shared a concert with at the Palau on Thursday night. We were able to get into the audience for their second song, which was awesome! The second half of the concert featured a Catalan Orchestra and Mass Choir with soprano and bass soloists, who first performed a Ralph Vaughn-Williams’ “Dona Nobis Pacem”. Then, the entire room was invited to join in for Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”- a pretty special way to close out the symposium!

Back at the residence, Elektra took over the fifth floor of one of the towers, and celebrated in style. In fact, we celebrated straight through until 3am, and those of us staying on in Europe sent off the singers heading straight back to Vancouver.

So with our European tour come to a close, we’ll sign off with a line from an Elektra classic, “The Parting Glass”:

– Goodnight and joy be with you all –

 Friday, July 28th

Friday morning began with a trip to L’Auditori, where Morna was one three conductor’s leading that day’s morning sing. After a fun physical and vocal warmup, the crowd of choristers and delegates first sang through a lovely Scottish folk song, and then Elektra took the stage. We were joined by 25 delegates to sing through Ottawa composer Kelly-Marie Murphy’s “Instrument of Peace”. We love being able to share the work of Canadian composers with such a global audience!

Starting the day with some Catalan music

After our piece, we sang an arrangement of a Catalan folk song, led by the conductor of Cor Vivaldi, and finished up the morning with a suite of songs from children’s games, led by a Japanese Children’s Choir. 

Elektra then had the afternoon to explore. Some singers wandered La Rambla, stopping at the vibrant Mercat La Boqueria, some took in a whole whack of sites via a hop-on, hop-off bus, others shopped the gothic quarter or marvelled at the beautiful cathedrals and other architecture Barcelona has to offer, and yet others parked on a patio, sipping coffee or cava and eating delicious tapas and paella. 


We met back up at one of the main festival sites for dinner before shuttling to the Santa Maria de Gracia to prepare for our evening concert with a Catalan choir from Lleida, Coral Shalom. We were able to watch their set, which celebrated the works of Catalan singer-songwriters. 

The acoustics of the church were resonant and open, similar to those of the cathedral in Aix, and we created some truly magical moments. Several audience members and singers were in tears by the close of the concert! You can listen to a recording of the concert here: 

Back at our residence, Elektra took over the basement to celebrate our two successful full-length concerts at the Symposium. We can hardly believe that tomorrow is our final day on tour! We’re very much looking forward to performing two Stephen Smith pieces at the closing concert of the symposium, at L’Auditori, and then enjoying Beethoven’s 9th symphony as audience members!

Thursday, July 27th

It’s been over 24 hours since we stepped on stage for our first performance at the Symposium, in the breathtaking Palau de la Música Catalana, and we are still coming down from the high. We are full of gratitude for the opportunity to perform in such an incredible concert hall, in front of such a generous audience of the international community, and to so many friends and family abroad, listening via the live radio broadcast. 

Soundcheck at the Palau de la Musica

We were pins and needles all evening after our 4pm soundcheck, where we stared, mouths agape, at the incredible stonework and mosaic decor of the beautiful Palau as we sang through our set. We also met Albert Juliá and Bernat Castillejo, the local musicians who joined us on soprano saxophone and flute, respectively. It can be such a terrifying thing to go into a performance with a new instrumentalist with little rehearsal, but both Albert and Bernat were consummate professionals and fit right in with us immediately. 

Bernat, Morna, Albert

The hours ticked on and we ran the gambit of emotions from nervous excitement to sentimentality and everything in between. Then finally the time came for the concert to begin, kicked off by host choir Orfeó Català. Imagine having the Palau be your home performance venue!! They were wonderful, of course, and we were so glad we were able to hear a couple pieces from backstage. 

When the time finally came for Elektra to walk across the stage, we were so full of joy, pride, and gratitude. Click here to listen to the concert. We will be reliving it again and again for many days to come. 

Wednesday, July 26th

We’ve made it to the central focus of our European tour, the 11th World Symposium on Choral Music in Barcelona, Spain. We are beyond honoured to have been selected as one of 24 choirs amongst hundreds of applicants worldwide. We are also so proud to be part of the Canadian Choral landscape. We are the only country to have sent two choirs the the Symposium- the Toronto Children’s Choir, under the direction of Elyse Bradley, performed at the first half of the event. 

After checking into our residence at the university, we headed down to l’Auditori to pick up our passes for the Symposium, and then onward to a group dinner, joining up with the Elektralytes who weren’t able to join us in France. Our meal an En Ville was so incredible that it literally made some singers cry. Check out our Facebook album for a picture of the menu!!!

We had incredible tapas to share, all the entrée options were delicious, and the desserts (coconut lime mousse or a salted chocolate ganache) were out of this world. The cava was flowing, as was the wine, and the company was simply divine. 

Now we centre ourselves, get a good night’s sleep, and prepare for tomorrow’s concert at the Palau de la Musica!

Tuesday, July 25th

Elektra’s second day in Sète began, as each of our days in France have, with many pastries and coffees and hellos and how-did-you-sleeps. Then, we were off to Carcassonne, adding yet another UNESCO world heritage site to our list. We had some unexpected rainfall in the morning – and just when the vancouverites were starting to get used to the heat – but still greatly enjoyed our tour of the fortified city, including the Cité de Carcassonne Château and Ramparts, and the Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus, with its amazing stained glass windows. 

The fortified castle of Carcassonne

Stained glass windows in the basilica

Part of the EWC group outside the ramparts

Following our visit to Carcassonne, we continued to Narbonne and the Domaine Montplaisir, which was a lovely location for a production rehearsal as we continue to gear up for our three performances at the 11th World Symposium on Choral Music. 

sunset seekers

We celebrated our last night in Sète with a hearty meal, a walk along the beach, and for some, a visit to the hotel’s Sky Bar!

Click here for more pictures! 

Next stop, Barcelona!

Monday, July 24th

Eight: the number of notes between an octave, the number of parts Elektra often sings in, the number of UNESCO world heritage sites in the city of Arles alone, and the number of days we wish there were in a week, because there is so much to see here in France!

Our day was packed with sights, starting off with a little tour of Arles, courtesy of our guide Nina, who has been such a treat to travel with. We saw two of Arles’ eight UNESCO world heritage sites- the Roman Amphitheatre and the Roman Arena. Both structures continue to this day to showcase art and sport respectively. We also visited the Arles City Hall and serenaded a handful of office staff since the vaulted ceilings lent themselves to a ditty. 

Elektralytes gaze up to the Roman Arena in Arles

Next up was a visit to the Mas de Tourelles vineyard in Beauclaire for a tasting of their unique Roman wines. The vineyard rests on an archeological site where ancient Romans produced wine. Every September, the current owners replicate the process the Romans used thousands of years ago to create three distinct varieties of wine. In Roman fashion, they add spices and fruits during the fermentation process, making for a very interesting taste that is quite different to that of the classic wine we are used to. 

After our wine tasting at Mas de Tourelles

We then journeyed to the fortified city of Aigues-Mortes to stroll the narrow cobble stone streets and grab a bite to eat before reaching our final destination for the day, and our headquarters for two nights, the seaside town of Séte. 

A few singers found time for a dip in the Mediterranean before our concert soundcheck. Very refreshing after a day of riding the bus! 

A dip in the Mediterranean!

Our concert at the Cathedrale Souveraine du Monde was a great opportunity to perform the accompanied pieces we will be bringing to the symposium. We were delighted by the reactions of our audience, who seems to truly connect with the emotions of the pieces, whether or not they may have understood the language we were singing in. This is one of the true joys of singing with Elektra- making connections through the universal power of music. 

After our concert we had a spontaneous group dinner at a nearby restaurant specializing in late night brochettes (kabobs essentially) and we’re coincidentally served by a server with ties to Canada! We had a blast celebrating together and yes- there was much singing into the night. 

Sunday, July 23rd

Today we had our first of 5 performances in Europe at the Cathedral Saint Sauveur in Aix-en-Provençe, after spending a lovely and leisurely morning touring the town. 

After learning some history of Aix from our wonderful guide, Nina, most singers stoked up on meats, cheeses, and fresh fruit from the farmer’s market to enjoy before our concert. And of course a French morning wouldn’t be complete without stopping for coffee and pastries!

Vibrant flowers and fruits at the market in Aix

Shopping for picnic fare!

Our performance at the cathedral in the afternoon was a completely a cappella set. We had such a receptive audience and it was truly a pleasure to sing for them. 
After our concert the evening was free to further explore the town. Some singers visited the Sicily exhibit at the Centre D’Art while others shopped the stalls at the open air market on Court Mirabeau, or enjoyed a glass of rosé on one of the many bustling patios. 

Our performance at Saint Sauveur

All in all a great final day in Aix before we depart for our next city of the tour, Sete!

Remember to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and the hashtag #EWCinEurope for more pictures and videos from our trip!

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

Our first full day in France was a busy one, filled with beautiful ancient buildings, delicious meals, and as always with Elektra, wonderful camaraderie. 

Our first stop in the morning was the picturesque Pont du Gard – a UNESCO world heritage site on the Gardon River. Built in the 1st century AD, this three story bridge was built as part of a 50km long Roman aqueduct. Some ladies climbed to the top of the bridge to walk across, and others went down to the river to take a dip!

Pont du Gard

Our next stop was the quaint town of Avignon, which was abuzz with performers and guests to the annual summer arts festival. We took a tour of the 14th century Palais de Papes (Pope’s Palace) and had the immense pleasure of singing Stephen Smith’s Consider the Lilies in the stunningly resonant acoustics. We counted a 4 second reverb at the end of the piece!

Palais de Papes

We had the afternoon in Avignon to explore, visiting museums, shopping for souvenirs, and enjoying shaded patios and yummy French cuisine!

After a quiet evening back in Aix, we’re much looking forward to our first concert of the tour tomorrow afternoon!

Keep an eye on our Facebook page for more memories from today!


Friday, July 7th, 2017

We’re singing in the shower and under our breath at the office, we’re serenading our roommates and kids, and practicing Russian and Old Norse pronunciation in our sleep.  We are less than two weeks away from our departure to Europe and we’re ELEKTRIC with excitement!   
Since our regular season wrapped up, we’ve been focused on polishing up the repertoire we’ll perform first at cathedrals in Southern France, and then in gorgeous Catalan venues as part of the 11th World Symposium on Choral Music (WSCM) in Barcelona, Spain. Starting next week, we’ll be moving into intensive rehearsals to put the finishing touches on our tunes. We are very proud to be highlighting the works of both Canadian and women composers in our European performances, including a couple by our own Stephen Smith, and an arrangement of Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game” by first alto Kate MacColl. We’re showing our Vancouver pride with songs by Kristopher Fulton and Kathleen Allan, continuing to celebrate women composers (and Canadian ones too!) with “Songbird” by Sarah Quartel, an arrangement of Jane Siberry’s “The Valley” by Beth Hanson, and of course it just wouldn’t be an Elektra set without an Abbie Betinis piece!

Our Europe repertoire also includes a world premiere by Finnish composer Jaakko Mäntyjärvi commissioned by the WSCM as part of a special program that paired choirs and composers from different nations. The piece, called “Juliet November Tango” uses only words from the NATO phonetic alphabet and is a blast to sing.  Rounding out our performances are classic pieces by Sergei Rachmaninoff and Franz Schubert, and “Sanctus-Benedictus” from György Orbán’sMass No. 6″.

Are you, or someone you know, headed to Europe this summer?  Have family in France or Spain?  We’d love to have familiar faces in the audience!  We will be performing at the following beautiful venues at the end of the month:

France Concerts:
July 23rd, Cathedral Saint Sauveur in Aix-en-Provence
July 24th, Notre Dame Souveraine du Monde in Sète

WSCM Concerts:
July 27th, Palau de la Música Catalana, with Orfeó Català, Catalonia and Ensemble Vine, Japan
July 28th, Santa Maria de Gràcia with Coral Shalom de Lledia, Catalonia
July 29th, L’Auditori, Pau Casals HallWSCM11 Closing Concert

Hope to see you there – but if you can’t make it, please come along for the ride by following us here on the blog, and on Elektra’s social media channels! À bientôt!

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