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Fall in Love with Capital Vox: not your standard fall choir concert

Capital Vox, Ottawa's jazz choir, is stretching its repertoire and challenging its singers with its concert this Saturday.

Choir director Elise Letourneau has included vocal jazz standards by Hoagy Carmichael, Bill Evans, George Gershwin, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, but hasn't stopped at that standard repertoire. She's also translated a well-known jazz instrumental like Dave Brubeck's Take Five into a new vocal context, and given it a funky feel instead of the classic swing. And then she's moved completely outside the jazz comfort zone, rearranging The Rain Song by Led Zeppelin for voices.

Capital Vox Choir - photo 2010 Brett Delmage

"It will be a real mix of styles, especially this time around. We're going to do some straight-ahead, we're going to do some swing, but we're also going to be doing some Latin – and we're doing some rock and pop," she said.

At its May concert, the choir sang a musical setting of Four Poems by American jazz poet Langston Hughes. Letourneau said that got such great feedback that Saturday's concert will also include Langston poetry, as well as pieces by Ottawa poet Tony Cosier.

The choir will perform The Desolation Blues by American beat writer Jack Kerouac as an improv piece, with both the singers and the accompanying musicians improvising around the music and words.

Guest vocalist Judette Budden will join the choir on two numbers: Little Jazz Bird by the Gershwins, and Waltz for Debby by Bill Evans. Despite not yet having even reached her teenage years, Budden has impressive credentials: in the 2009 Conservatory of Canada singing exams, she scored the highest marks in her age range for her level in Ontario. Letourneau said that Budden was first drawn to jazz standards through Disney and Broadway, as well as her father's love of the Great American Songbook.

Guitarist Tim Bedner, bassist Mark Alcorn, and drummer Marilee Townsend will accompany the 24-voice choir, along with two guests, pianist Mark Ferguson, and saxophonist Rene Lavoie.

Letourneau said she custom-wrote all the numbers in the concert for the choir. "I do have the luxury of, if I know that nobody has a note in that particular range, I don't write it. Working with these vocalists every week I have a sense of what the strengths are and what things need a bit more work before trotting them out.  I am in the unique position that I can write to the choir's strengths."

Capital Vox has evolved and improved over its three years of existence, she said. "For the people who have been coming consistently since the beginning, I've seen an overall increase in their skill. In the new people the choir attracts, it is consistently attracting new people who are at higher and higher levels."

"As a result, I can start considering 'oh maybe they could handle this'. It really does open up the playing field. It takes a lot of the limits away."

Fall In Love with Capital Vox is at the NAC Fourth Stage on Saturday, November 21, at 7:30 p.m. Ticket and other info here.

  — Alayne McGregor