Living a musical life: Capital Chamber Choir’s Jamie Loback connecting with community

Jamie Loback

Rankin, Ontario really isn’t much more than an intersection on Highway 41 south of Pembroke.

The farming community is a long way from Latvia but, in a way, Jamie Loback has made that journey … through music.

Loback is the music director of the Capital Chamber Choir and his ensemble of talented singers has caught the attention of a rather well-known Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds, whose work is performed around the world, and others representing that part of Europe.

Loback says that the choir has been developing a relationship with the embassies of the three Baltic states incuding Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. It started when the choir dug into the repertoire of the Baltics.

“Somebody must have told the Latvian ambassador we were doing Latvian composers because he came out to a concert. The Estonians have been out too. Eventually we are hoping to visit these countries and take some Canadian compositions there and have a bit of an exchange.”

Choral music is a big deal in the Baltics. After all, their freedom from the Soviet Union was made in the so-called Singing Revolution.

“Singing united their culture. They have these huge singing festivals over there, with thousands of people attending,” Loback says.

Loback’s choir is trying to do something similar in Canada with its emphasis on performing Canadian music.

The choir was founded in 2009 by a graduate student at the University of Ottawa named Sara Brooks. She left town in 2012 and Loback picked up the baton.

The group was founded as a 16-to-20 voice choir. Today their ranks range from 30 to 40 voices depending on the project.

“We cannot call ourselves a professional choir,” Loback says. “It is a volunteer chorus, but the level of training is high. A lot of the members have done music training in university, or they have been through an advanced program earlier in life.

“The expectation that we have is that the singers arrive at rehearsal prepared. Our rehearsals are conducted almost entirely a capella. That’s a wonderful thing to be able to do that. Their knowledge of harmony enables them to do that.”

The Capital Chamber Choir in action.

This frees the group up to be polished and prepared. And that allows the choir to be more ambitious. They almost always perform a capella in three to four concerts a year in which they premiere a lot of new pieces. They also work with the Ottawa Regional Youth Choir and in other larger gatherings including at the National Arts Centre. This summer they’ll be off to Podium, Choral Canada’s annual conference and festival in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

“Occasionally we will have instruments with us,” Loback says. “Thirteen Strings has played with us before, for example.”

And they have recorded. Their debut disc of Canadian music, The Delight of Paradise, was released last spring.

You’d think Loback was busy enough. But he is also the director of music at St. Joseph’s Church in Sandy Hill, one of the conductors with the Ottawa Children’s Choir, and he leads the Ottawa Regional Youth Choir.

“You have to do that if want any kind of career. It’s great having that variety in a (work) week. It’s a great time in my life having all these different groups to work with.”

Loback studied music at uOttawa achieving a Master’s degree.

“I started working at St. Joseph’s while I was at university starting as a pianist and organist. Eventually I became the choir director.” That’s basically when he developed his love for choral music.

“I sang in the university choir, but I didn’t sing a lot before that. In high school, I was studying piano. I did sing a Messiah once, but I never imagined myself doing what I am doing now. I thought I might become high school music teacher.

“Where I grew up we didn’t have any of that. I grew up in Rankin, a rural community near Pembroke.

“I used to go to Valley Festival concerts all the time when I was in high school. My aunt and uncle were farmers but they loved to go hear what the Valley Festival was up to.”

When he discovered choral music, “I just decided this is where I wanted to go. At one time I had thought would do a PhD in music theory and make a career as an academic in university but it wasn’t what was speaking to me at the time. I’m going to stay with this and see where it goes.”

That journey has put him in contact with Ešenvalds who will be conducting a workshop with the choir of Feb. 28.

“He caught onto our twitter feed and he sent some good wishes for a concert in which we were singing some of his music.”

Ešenvalds is coming to four Canadian cities. This week he is in Toronto working with the Orpheus Choir where his work, the Northern Lights, will be performed. Then he will go to Kitchener-Waterloo on  Feb. 26 and Montreal on Feb. 27.

In Ottawa, Ešenvalds will do a workshop for composition students and then will be doing a talk, Loback said.

“We will host his visit and will perform four pieces by him. Two of them, we will do as a more formal performance and then we will invite the participants to sing along with the other two.”

Loback’s choir was established to perform new music and Canadian music. It’s a risk because new music isn’t always popular.

“A lot of people have a hesitation around modern music. They think it will all sound atonal. But the work that is going around in the choral world today is really interesting. It’s accessible.

“The palette has opened up,” Loback says, through music made in places such as the Baltics and in Canada.

“I think there is a tremendous beauty to Baltic music. In some of the pieces there is a simplicity to it. It is also very emotional music.”

A Choral Encounter with Ēriks Ešenvalds
When: Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.
Where: St. Joseph’s Parish, Sandy Hill
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.