Singing Messiah: Keeping it fresh, with help from Woody Woodpecker

Laurence Ewashko © Alan Dean Photography

I have the great pleasure to prepare the chorus for the National Arts Centre Orchestra's production of Handel's Messiah, an event I have enjoyed for over 27 years.

My job is to keep the chorus on their toes, rehearsing the movements in a variety of tempi, articulation and dynamics. Add that to the fact that we are blessed to work with the amazing musicians who make up the NAC Orchestra, and you are bound to have a unique experience which seems timeless and yet fresh, every single year.  

This year we are working with the combined voices of Ewashko Singers and the Cantata Singers of Ottawa. The two groups work well together and offer a solid rich vocal colour, while still being able to produce the lightness in the fastest of passages. You would almost think that the many sixteenth-note passages would be easier at slower tempi: the opposite is actually true. We achieve it through what I call the "Woody Woodpecker" technique – light throat articulation of the fast passages, similar to controlled laughter.

Each time I return to study the score of this magnificent artistic masterpiece, I discover something new, from elements of articulation and variances in tempo. And then there are the many interpretations  offered by the varied conductors, their rendering  of the texts, and shaping of phrases, which is always fascinating. We are anxious to meet with maestro James Feddeck, and await his inspiration to create a new interpretation of this age-old piece that will forever transcend the test of time.

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