Aella Choir

Power Through Voice

Filtering by Tag: culture

Artist's Corner: An interview with Natalie Hanna

natalie.jpg

Today on Aella's blog, we interview local poet Natalie Hanna, with whom we are collaborating in Her Voice.  Hear Natalie performing her original poetry during Aella's final full-length concert of the season, 7:00 p.m. at First Baptist Church, Ottawa on June 4.

Tell us a bit about your background. How long have you been writing poetry? What sort of themes do you tend to write on?

I am a lawyer, a feminist, and the daughter of parents who immigrated to Canada from Egypt in the early 1970s. I have been writing for poetry for approximately 20 years. My writing focusses on women’s experiences, queerness, otherness, diaspora, relationships, politics, nature, and the body, though this is not an exhaustive list.

How did you get involved with this project? What drew you to Aella and "Her Voice"?

Jennifer Baker, whom I have the privilege of calling a friend, approached me to see if I may be interested in contributing to a project where poets would complement a choir singing music reflective of a multiplicity of women’s voices. I appreciate projects that foster inclusivity, so this was immediately interesting to me. I was also very excited about the prospect of joining music to poetry - a sort of modernization of and echo back to the Greek chorus.

What did you use as inspiration for your "Her Voice" pieces?  

The pieces I will perform focus on the struggles of my mother in overcoming the challenges of her life. They discuss her longing for broader horizons as a child, her hopes for her life and her children, and overcoming mistreatment. She was a doctor in her professional life and has retired now, and there is something of practical healing in the poems to honour her. The poems move backwards and forwards in time, so the audience comes to learn more of her story in the same scattered way that children often do. The poems are delivered through the lens of nature, with the sun and the moon figuring prominently in our cultural memory. The sequence closes with a poem for displaced people of the Middle-East. 

Have you ever undertaken a collaboration of this nature?

This is my first time working with a choir. Recently, I performed in the Blood and Bones (Ottawa) show, which merged storytelling (JD Hobbes) and poetry (Natasha Clery, Jamaal Jackson Rogers), with the gifted Jason Sonier collaborating on upright electric bass (bowed) and guitar. This brought such a beautiful added dimension to the stage. This collaboration is different, but I hope it will still be as entertaining for the audience.

Aella was very excited to work with you one-on-one. What was the experience like for you? Was it what you expected? Did hearing the choir change anything about the way you envisioned your pieces?

Working with Aella was an enriching, entrancing, and intimidating experience all at once. I am very cognizant of their skill and the work that they have put into their instruments. Imagine sitting in the pews of the sanctuary of a church, listening to a group of poised, precise, attuned women begin to raise their voices in a song that quickly becomes not words, but a feeling. Imagine that the feeling mixes hope, loss, power, praise, and daring. Imagine that they carry you forward in that space, on that sound, until you’ve forgotten where you are. Now imagine that someone tells you that you have to get up and speak to the room to which they were just singing. You’re not sure how. You’re not even sure it’s a good idea anymore because you don’t know if you can pair with something this beautiful. 

Listening to the choir absolutely changed how I decided to deliver my pieces. After learning which songs would bookend my sequence of poems, I incorporated phrases from “Warrior” by Kim Baryluk (of the Wyrd Sisters) which is the music that immediately follows the sequence, into the beginning and end of my poems, for continuity. I also approached my friend and drummer, Badger Jones, to collaborate for the set, taking the percussion from Maid On The Shore (which precedes my poems) into my set. I also approached Jennifer Berntson to see if the choir may be open to trying new sounds, and they were completely open and generous with working with me on this aspect. 

Final word: in your ideal world, what would you like the audience to take away from this performance?

Ideally, I’d likethe audience to seek out pieces of music in their everyday lives that reflect diverse experiences and share them with each other, in the spirit of this show. I’d like them to reflect on their own stories, as well, as there is power in each person’s history.

Artist's Corner: An interview with Jennifer Baker

jenbakerheadshot.jpg

Today on Aella's blog, we interview local poet Jennifer Baker, with whom we are collaborating in Her Voice.  Hear Jennifer performing her original poetry during Aella's final full-length concert of the season, 7:00 p.m. at First Baptist Church, Ottawa on June 4.

Tell us a bit about your background. How long have you been writing poetry? What sort of themes do you tend to write on?

I hate to sound like a cliché, but I have probably been writing poetry with the goal of publishing or performance since I was around 12. First, I was writing to please adults, the way that over-achieving, anxious children do. Now I write more for myself, which is both the problem and pleasure of poetry.

Broadly speaking, I tend to write on themes of place, trauma, class, nature, dialect and identity, and the ways in which all of those issues are connected. I come from small-town Ontario, and have always been fascinated wih the way people—both people who live and work in rural places and people who don't—talk about place and community and culture, and class. I find the cultural differences between urban and rural places, the barriers and asumptions made between people there, striking. Most of my poems are about exploring the cultural history of Huron County, and our inability to see the culture that surrounds us—and often the pressure of keeping that culture's secrets—until we leave it.

How did you get involved with this project? What drew you to Aella and "Her Voice"?

I've been lucky enough to know Jennifer Berntson, Shawn Potter, and Erin Joyce for a few years, now, and have been living vicariously through their choir stories and listening to performances for quite some time (and lamenting my inability to sing!). And I think our talks eventually influenced my writing practice in that I've started to become really interested in form, and the way that a certain ear for language can bump up against, say, musical composition, or even sculpture. I'm still just getting started on experimenting in that sense. 

But the simple answer is that I was drawn to Aella because these women are ultra-talented and I love listening to beautiful music, of course!

What did you use as inspiration for your "Her Voice" pieces?  

While I'm not sure I would call my poems explicitly feminist, I have seen my overall project as a feminist one. Because I write lyric poetry, which is poetry about the Self, my pieces try to make a space for my version of home, with all of its difficult complications, inelegancies, and embarrassments. There is enormous power in honesty—it's something that sounds so easy to achieve until you realize you need to be honest with yourself, first.

My inspiration, then, is that I think the idea of women making their voices heard is a powerful one, and I have tried to pull together poems that represent my attempts to do that.

Have you ever undertaken a collaboration of this nature?

No, this is my first! I'm so excited to see how this will go. I'm sure I'll learn tons.

Aella was very excited to work with you one-on-one. What was the experience like for you? Was it what you expected? Did hearing the choir change anything about the way you envisioned your pieces?

I was very excited to work with Aella as well! I think the most surprising part of the experience was listening to the recordings (which weren't of Aella's performance), of Magnificat, which is to come before my first reading, and hearing Aella sing it for the first time in the space. The effect is just such an experience. I felt a lot more excited for the performance and a lot more nervous to do justice to that piece in concert. It was so good. 

Final word: in your ideal world, what would you like the audience to take away from this performance?

I'd be happy if people found themselves moved and entertained. But beyond that, I think the title, Her Voice, is particularly fitting for a performance that mixes poetry, instrumental, and choral performance. In so many of the instances that the audience is going to see, they're not just creating a space for women to have their voices heard; they're also witnessing what it takes to build a voice of one's own. I'd like the audience to come away with a sense of the vital and powerful nature of that work.