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Korora Choirs Is Hiring!

The Korora Choir Association is currently accepting applications for the position of Operations Manager. Reporting to our Executive Director, the role of Operations Manager is a full-time position with responsibility for the day-to-day operations of Korora Choirs as well as concert and tour production. This position is a hybrid role, with most of the work being performed remotely but with some on-site work required for choir events like open rehearsals, auditions, and concerts.

To read more about this position and to learn how to apply, please click here.

Kokopelli is now Korora

Edmonton’s acclaimed Kokopelli Choir Association now has a new name: Korora. The name applies to both our choir association as a whole and our flagship youth choir. Our other six ensembles retain their current names. Our vision and mission, of course, remain the same.

Why the new name?

The move to a new name may surprise people. After all, we have spent 27 years building a national and international reputation as Kokopelli. In choral circles, the name has become synonymous with musical excellence and dynamic performance.

And that, in short, is the problem. The name Kokopelli was never truly ours to begin with.

In recent years, we have become increasingly aware and concerned about the Indigenous origins of “Kokopelli,” which we had taken as our name and visual identity. In today’s growing climate of reconciliation, we felt compelled to confront and address the uncomfortable reality of our cultural appropriation.

Kokopelli is a fertility deity revered by the Hopi and other Indigenous cultures of what is now the American southwest. In recent decades, however, its symbolism has been co-opted by countless non-Indigenous companies, from cafes to kayak manufacturers—and, in 1996, by our choir.

“We had the best of intentions when we chose this name back in the 1990s,” says founder and artistic director Scott Leithead. “But of course we now realize that the name isn’t appropriate and doesn’t fit with who we are and what we value as an organization We’re proud of everything we’ve accomplished under the name Kokopelli, but it was time for us to find a new name we can call our own.”

The renaming process

The journey to find that new name began in the spring of 2021, with an Edmonton Community Foundation grant to finance a formal rebranding process. 

We approached First Nations consultant Hunter Cardinal, and commissioned a report that confirmed the need for our rebranding. This began our ongoing relationship with Naheyawin, Hunter’s agency that helps organizations move forward in the spirit of Treaty. Naheyawin provided essential guidance and feedback throughout the remainder of our renaming process.

As 2022 began, we launched an extensive series of brainstorming sessions with our choirs. We also made a special effort to gather input from members and former members who identify as Indigenous. The conversations spanned months and generated dozens of potential new names.

By March 2023, we had narrowed the field down to two top contenders. We sent an email to the membership inviting everyone to make a case for their personal favourite.

From that discussion, a clear frontrunner emerged. On May 13, 2023, at a special general meeting, members approved the motion to rename our organization to Korora Choir Association.

Why Korora?

The “Ko” in Korora maintains a clear bridge with our association’s rich history. The name as a whole evokes “aurora,” a distinctly northern phenomenon bringing together colour, light, beauty, and motion (much like our choirs).

Our new identity is brilliantly captured in a striking new logo by Kelly Skinner of Friday Design + Photography.

“I’m thrilled,” says Leithead. “I can’t wait for next season, when we can carry our artistry forward as Korora.”

A Few Minutes with Vacilando Singer Cressida Heyes

U of A philosophy professor Cressida Heyes is currently in her fourth season singing with Vacilando (and also serves on our association’s board). Like many of our adult choristers, she values choir as a weekly oasis in an otherwise hectic life. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Give me a little snapshot of your of your professional life. What sort of things do you have to juggle in a typical day?

One of the weird things about an academic job is that there is no such thing as a typical day.

I’m a professor at the University of Alberta. My PhD is in philosophy and I teach philosophy and political theory. The job has three components: 40 percent research, 40 percent teaching, 20 percent service. But the way that that’s distributed through the year, and over the years, is enormously variable.

So, at the moment I’m in a slightly blissful state, where I’m only teaching one graduate seminar and it’s all very lovely. I’m writing like crazy and trying to finish my manuscript for a book I’m working on.

But there have been other times in my career where I’ve had administrative appointments—which can mean horrible 70-hour weeks and things like that. Or, times where I’ve been teaching hundreds of undergraduates at a time—creating the content for them, evaluating their work, and managing their issues.

So it’s a completely different job depending on which day, which month, which year you ask, really.

If you put yourself in one of those 70-hour weeks, how earth do you find time to stop what you’re doing, hop in your car, and go to choir rehearsal?

At a certain point, what are you going to do? Are you going to organize your entire life around the fact that sometimes you have a 70- or 80-hour week? Are you just not going to do anything else because it might be too much? You can’t live that like that.

So, I’m trying to get better at including things in my life that I really want to do. And just trying to let a few things slide sometimes. With the job I have, at least for someone with my kind of pathological personality, it’s hard to just to let something slide—especially now, because of all the cuts at the university

But dropping something doesn’t always have to be negative, you know? A mentor of mine once told me, “You overprepare for teaching. You spend too much time. If you spent 75 percent of the time, it would make zero percent difference to the students.” And I thought, oh yeah, that’s right, isn’t it?

How did you first come to Vacilando? How did you discover it?

Well, I sang in choirs throughout my youth, when I was an undergrad, and when I was in graduate school. But then, the early years of an academic career are really awful and demanding. And I was moving a lot; I moved between countries a couple of times.

I had meant to join a choir when I came to Edmonton, because I figured that I would be here for a while. I kept meaning to, but never did.

And then my ex-husband and I ended our relationship after being married for 20 years It was difficult, but also really regenerative in a certain way—for both of us.

Just at that the time that was happening, I went to a small dinner party for a friend’s 40th birthday, and another friend of mine, Natalie Loveless, was there. We sang happy birthday to this friend, and Natalie turned to me and said, “You can sing! You have a singing voice! Why aren’t you in a choir?” And I said, “Well I just never really got around to it.” And she said, “I’m in this choir, Vacilando. You should audition.” And the rest is history.

What does choir bring to you that you don’t get elsewhere in your life as a parent and professor?

The opportunity, not just to listen to music, but to be part of making music and getting into the guts of music. It’s so different than listening from the outside.

And I really, really value being in community with people who are not academics. Academics tend to hang out with each other all the time. It’s very unhealthy. So, it’s really good to be in a group of people who all do different things.

Do you have a favorite Vacilando memory so far?

A very fortunate thing happened, in hindsight. My parents, who are in their 70s, came to visit me from the UK in May 2019. I’m not sure the trip would have happened if they’d left it another season, with the pandemic and with both of them getting older.

That spring we had the After Dark concert at Cité Francophone. The tickets were completely sold out, but I was, like, oh my God, my parents have come from the UK! So, we got them in. They were able to see what I was doing in choir, and to see me doing something that is part of my life in Edmonton. We had a glass of wine in the foyer, and it was just really nice to connect those things. That was a high point for me.

Vacilando next performs Saturday, April 9 at After Dark.  Get tickets here.

Three Brothers - One Choir Family

Photo credit: Kelly Skinner, Friday Design and Photography

Seventeen-year-old Callum Mitchell is part of a trio of brothers, all involved in our organization. We caught up with Callum as he settles into his first season in Kokopelli after three years as a fixture in Shumayela.

Let’s start with your origin story. How did you first get involved in choir?
I had been in a different choir. I started in Grade Two. My older brother Alastair had been in Shumayela for a couple of years. So, once I left that choir I also joined Shumayela. And I was there for three years, I think. And now I’m in Koko.

What was it about Shumayela that kept you hooked?
I can say from experience, and you can really tell from outside, that the choir is a lot of fun. And Kim’s a really great director.

It feels professional in a way. It’s very high level, and we did very complex and interesting music. And we’d get to perform in places like the Winspear. It gave me all kinds of experiences that I wouldn’t get in other places.

What was your most memorable experience with Shumayela?
It was the Stories concert, the first year it was at the Winspear [2019]. That was also my first time performing at the Winspear. I had been there a few times to listen to other groups. But actually being on the stage, and singing for people, really stands out for me.

One particular piece I remember from that concert was Lunar Lullaby. Seeing the stage all lit up with the lanterns was quite special.

Obviously, last year was a challenge when it came to choir. How did Kim manage to keep people engaged? Was there anything particularly cool that stands out?
We still had our weekly rehearsals over Zoom. But, in terms of cool stuff, there were the music videos we did for each of the pieces we worked on. Eye of the Tiger was really the big one, where we put together an awesome video to go with our recordings. Everybody recorded their singing and dancing at home, and those got stitched together later. And we also did that for other pieces later in the year.

There were also smaller things we did. At one point, we all split up into groups, each with our own little project to work on. Then we got to share them, and that was also a lot of fun.

What’s it like coming into Kokopelli after your years in Shumayela? How did your Shumayela experience prepare you for this next step?
There’s a step up in the musicality of what we’re doing. It’s hard to describe, but the feel of it all is amazing.

Having been one of the older kids in Shumy, we had the space to really delve into our parts and learn them. It helped get us ready to move into Kokopelli.

The Mitchells are unusual for our organization—three brothers from one family. [Editor: It's happened once before that we can remember!] What has that meant for you as a choir member? What sort of support do the various brothers provide for each other?
Especially with my younger brother Owen joining Shumayela this year, it’s interesting to see him go through that, and to hear his experiences and compare them to mine. It’s a different look into the choir than you get when you’re in it.

What would you say to a guy who might feel drawn to choir, but who worries that choir is uncool?
Choir is totally cool! Any time anybody sees our choir videos, they always think it’s cool. I show that “Eye of the Tiger” video to people and they think it’s really amazing. So I’d say, “You could be a part of that.”

When you join choir, nobody expects you to be some kind of A-tier singer, or anything like that. We’re all so supportive. We like to lift each other up and work together to make a great thing.

What do you look forward to in the next few years, choir-wise?
I really look forward to getting to know the people in choir better, and building those relationships.

Three Generations - Interview with Janice Hurlburt

Three Generations, Photo Credit:  Kelly Skinner, Friday Design and Photography

How did you first come to our organization?

I came to the organization when my daughter Shannon joined Kokopelli. And she then moved on to Òran. We started attending these concerts where we were just blown away with the music. I mean as soon as they started singing I would almost start to cry, every concert. The beauty of the music—and the variety, and the movement—was always very inspiring.

Then, when Vacilando was created, Shannon said, “Mom, you gotta join, you gotta join!” She kept nudging me (laughs). So I signed up.

How would you describe your initial experience? Had you been in a choir before?
I had studied years ago in the music program at MacEwan, back when it was a community college. I got a diploma in voice, and sang in the jazz choir there. And I'm a lifelong Anglican, so I grew up singing the alto part in hymns.

What’s different and special about singing in a group, as opposed to solo?
I had a bit of a quirky start when I joined Vacilando. I had acquired a dizziness condition. Just being in a room with that many people was overwhelming. It was a real challenge. But the choir helped heal me. Choir brought me back to myself. Just singing the same thing together, rather than having a room full of people who are all having different conversations. To create something together—holding each other up and moving each other forward.

At the same time, singing is just so joyful. You can go to choir feeling really lousy and down in the dumps, and by the time you finish singing together you’ve just got a pep in your step.

You started in Vacilando, but moved to ChandraTala when it was started. What drew you to the new choir, and what makes ChandraTala special?
Yeah, I was in the first six seasons of Vacilando, and I just cherish that choir so much. In my last season, we sang Laura Hawley’s composition “Sonnet 43,” which I just loved. When I heard she was coming to direct a choir, I just thought, oh yeah, it would be so incredible to sing with her, and it has been. And I also thought that singing in an upper voices choir for experienced singers was an interesting challenge, and part of that challenge is that as an Alto 2 I am singing as the lowest voice in the choir rather than singing in the middle.

I know it’s really special to you to have three generations in the choir—you, Shannon, and now her kids Rosie and Noah. What has that been like?
So far, I’ve been able to sing onstage with Shannon and Rosie—each of us in our own choir outfits. It’s been such a thrill, knowing that we’re performing together. If there’s any kind of mixed choir or mass choir piece, Shannon and I will make a point of standing together. It just feels so wonderful to be sharing that.

I can’t imagine there are many choir associations out there where that sort of thing would be possible.
Exactly! In the older choirs, so many of us are “parents of.” It’s so wonderful to sing with our kids. I’m thrilled the organization created choirs where we could do that.

We’re the first actual three-generation family, but there are many other families with more than one generation singing in the choirs.

So, you’ve got that feather in your cap forever. To finish off, what would you say to somebody who, like you, is in the seats listening to the choirs, and who thinks they might want to join in?
When you go to a performance, you're looking at something that’s been rehearsed—a lot. You may think, “Oh, well, I could never do that,” but when you go to rehearsals it’s always very supportive. You’ve got all the other people in your section who are there to help you build that experience. By the time we get to the performance that'll be you doing that!