Arts & CultureCampus & City

Edmonton’s Chronos Vocal Ensemble celebrates 10th anniversary

The ensemble will soon embark on its 2023-24 season, with the first concert "Arise, Arise!" on November 12.

Getting involved in your community creates a lasting positive impact — whether it’s through community service or something you’re passionate about. In a city like Edmonton with endless creative opportunities, musicians and artists have inter-communities that powerfully affect Edmonton and more.

Chronos Vocal Ensemble‘s award-winning success can be attributed to its passionate founders and talented volunteers. The ensemble is celebrating its 10th anniversary as a significant part of Edmonton and Canada’s choral community.

Artistic Director Jordan Van Biert founded Chronos in 2013. Van Biert completed his Master’s of Music in Choral Conducting at the University of Alberta, during which he taught aural skills in the department of music.

As well, some founding and current singers of Chronos are U of A alumni. Van Biert emphasized the important role the U of A played in fostering Chronos.

“The U of A has been a massive factor in the musical training of myself and a lot of our singers. [And] also in creating this environment that has built such a thriving choral community in Edmonton.”

Jessica Heine is a U of A alumna with a Bachelor’s of Music in Classical Voice. Heine and Van Biert go way back, as they studied together at the U of A. She was excited when Van Biert announced he was starting Chronos, and has been a member ever since.

“I really like the level of music that we do,” Heine explained. “For people like me who have a background in music and a lot of experience in choral singing, it gives us a chance to sing more difficult repertoire.”

That difficulty is what Van Biert had in mind when starting Chronos — he wanted to create something ambitious.

The ensemble’s unique focus on recording new Canadian music has translated to its concerts

With Chronos, Van Biert filled a gap in Edmonton’s choral community. It provides an opportunity for volunteers to partake in a high-level group without having professional experience.

“Edmonton is a city full of really great music, music education programs, and youth choir programs,” Van Biert said. When he was looking to establish Chronos, “Edmonton was building a lot of great choral singers with ambition and an appetite for singing great repertoire at a high-level.”

Through Chronos, singers can satisfy their appetite by performing in an ensemble with strong national recognition, while also pursuing other goals. Ten years after the ensemble’s founding, the pursuit of excellence and growth in musicianship remains.

Uniquely, Chronos sings and records new music by Canadian composers that are commercially unknown. This wasn’t Van Biert’s original plan, but diverting from only singing popular repertoire has made Chronos a vehicle for bringing recognition to Canadian composers.

“By the end of our third season, we were issuing an album completely [made up] of previously unrecorded new music by a local composer. Our third album in 2018 was all music by living composers, all Canadian, none previously recorded.” Van Biert recalled. “That has become a focus for us in multiple concerts [each] season.”

The season’s first concert draws on themes of inner-reflection and the duality of life

The ensemble’s 2023-24 concert season features four concerts. The first one, Arise, Arise!, is on November 12. It will feature traditional choral repertoire from composers such as Felix Mendelssohn and Johann Sebastian Bach. As well, it will feature contemporary poetry from living composers.

The program’s special opening will feature a piece by Cree composer Andrew Balfour. The text is in Ojibway, and it references the four directions: north, east, south, and west.

“But then [the piece] ends with here, inside. That reference to inward reflection and the inner-life frames the emotional content of our whole program,” Van Biert explained.

The concert is named after Carmine Lappano’s composition, “Arise, Arise!,” which won the 2022-23 Chronos Composition Competition. The title, derived from James Joyce’s poem “My dove, my beautiful one,” is misleading at first. As the poem’s speaker longs for a dead loved one to come back to life, the composition relays longing and sadness.

“It’s actually only through hearing the text that you realize that. It’s not just excitement or exuberance,” Van Biert described. “That’s how it relates to our concert, which is all about that duality of life: longing for what is not and embracing and celebrating what is.”

Lily Polenchuk

Lily Polenchuk is the 2024-25 Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway. She previously served as the 2023-24 Managing Editor, 2023-24 and 2022-23 News Editor, and 2022-23 Staff Reporter. She is in her second year, studying English and political science.

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