If hearing some of the most nuanced choral singing in the city isn’t enough to get you out to one of musica intima’s 20th-anniversary concerts this weekend, consider that the program on offer is a virtual survey of Canada’s best choral composers. R. Murray Schafer, Imant Raminsh, Rodney Sharman, Stephen Chatman: they’re all on the bill, along with antique fare from Thomas Tallis and Giovanni da Palestrina, in what Melanie Adams says is a true “greatest hits” selection from the choir’s repertoire.
“It sort of traces the journey we’ve been on,” the alto explains, on the line from her New Westminster teaching studio. “It’s a combination of favourite pieces that we’ve done over time and pieces that we’ve gotten very strong audience reaction on. You know, pieces that we’re asked for.”
During its two decades, the choir has been asked for a lot, having established both a cross-country and an international touring reputation. Not bad for a group that started as an informal association of friends singing around founding member Michael Murray’s kitchen table. “They did that for a while,” says Adams, who joined musica intima in 2000. “And then they thought, ‘Wow, we’re pretty good at this. Maybe we should put on a concert!’ ”
Murray has since moved on to become the music director of St. Philip’s Anglican Church, and the choir has expanded from eight members to 12, but musica intima remains true to its original ethos of musical friendship—and to its leaderless agenda. Decisions are suggested by committee and ratified by the membership as a whole, and if a complex piece demands conducting, one of the singers will step into the role. More commonly, though, the group performs without the guidance of a baton.
It’s an unusual strategy, but, as Adams suggests, it’s becoming slightly more common. “We’re starting to hear of other little groups here and there who are beginning to pick up this model,” she notes. “Or sometimes, if we go to do a workshop with a choir, or even when individual members do a workshop with a community choir or a school choir, they want to know how to do it. I don’t know if we’ll ever actually see a lot more of them coming up; right now, we’re still the only one that I see performing with any real regularity. But it’s kind of exciting to know that we’ve spread this across the country as we’ve gone.”
As for musica intima’s other legacy—the body of new Canadian compositions that has resulted from its commissioning process—that, too, is testament to the role of friendship in its otherwise professional undertaking.
“It might be the composer is somebody we know, and that we might want to give a boost to,” Adams says. “If the piece works out well, we’ll take it on the road, and we’ll sell it as much as we can.…We actually think of the personality of the composer, too, and say, ‘I think that’s somebody we’ll have a really great working relationship with.’
“And, yeah,” she adds, “it’s almost always worked out well!”