The Vancouver Bach Choir presents: Christmas with the Bach Choir, Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. and Handel's Messiah, Dec. 12 at 8 p.m., Orpheum Theatre. Tickets: vancouverbachchoir.com.
Soprano vocalist Talin Ohanian found out the hard way that not everyone appreciates opera music.
Originally from Iran, when Ohanian first came to Canada she had to move six times in quick succession because she would offend neighbours with her arias. "It's really high notes and then it goes outside and everywhere," says Ohanian with a laugh. "People would pound on the above floor, boom, boom, boom, when I would start practising again. The manager came once and gave notice to us: don't sing.
But repeating scales and arpeggios two to three hours every morning are the demands of being a professional vocalist. "It doesn't sound natural, but it's an important part of the singing," says Ohanian of her vocal warm-ups.
In a desperate move Ohanian once went inside her closet, between the clothes, to let out her voice. She needed to practise for her final exam for the acclaimed Royal Conservatory of Music. It paid off for Ohanian who graduated from RCM's voice performance program with first class honours with distinction, and was even awarded a scholarship. Ohanian's musical roots can be traced back to Tehran, where as a child she would emulate her aunt who was an opera singer. "And my mom and dad were like, 'Oh, she has a voice,'" says Ohanian. The precocious chanteuse joined an Armenian children's choir, and then as a teenager, Ohanian started taking singing more seriously, signing up for private voice and theory lessons.
After high school Ohanian went to Armenia to study at the Komitas State Conservatory of Yerevan, named after one of that country's great composers. Afterwards, Ohanian auditioned and was accepted into the Tehran Symphony Orchestra, an experience she thoroughly enjoyed. "We did many, many things - Mozart, Brahms," recalls Ohanian. "I love classical music. Brahms music is really, really deep. Mozart is spiritual. Every composer is different."
Shortly after Ohanian's arrival in Vancouver, in 2005, she started taking voice lessons at UBC's School of Music. In the afternoons Ohanian teaches Armenian and Persian children traditional folk music out of her North Vancouver home furnished with two upright pianos and piles of sheet music.
As well, Ohanian puts on multicultural concerts and fundraising events. Proceeds from a 2013 benefit concert Ohanian helped organize were transferred to a charity in Iran that built a school in one of the villages. This week Ohanian is also busy rehearsing for the Vancouver Bach Choir's annual Christmas concert. Ohanian was blown away when she joined the famed classical choir, one of Canada's largest and most celebrated, three years ago. "Since my childhood I have sung in many different choirs, but nothing like the Vancouver Bach Choir," says Ohanian. "This is my first experience with more than 100 singers. It is really a new and great experience for me." Ohanian says she is in the right place to learn more and more about choral music and praises Vancouver Bach Choir conductor, Leslie Dala, who also lives on the North Shore, for his leadership.
"I learn every single thing that he says, about the choral music, about the languages," says Ohanian, adding many arias she sings are in Italian. Christmas with the Bach Choir, on Dec. 6, is billed as a celebratory afternoon of heartwarming Christmas favourites performed by 400 singers from the entire Bach Choir family including the Vancouver Bach Children's Chorus, Youth Choir and Sarabande, alongside the internationally renowned symphonic adult choir.
"I'm really, really excited because I know that 400 singers will raise their voices together in joyful song and the Christmas spirit, it will belong in everyone," says Ohanian. "I think we are going to bring the happiness for everyone."
Despite the grandeur of the event Ohanian says there is no need for her to be nervous.
"With 400 singers I don't think anyone has to be pressured for his or her voice," says Ohanian. "Everyone just has to sing normal and relaxed and then it's going to be a perfect song in the hall."
This Christmas season the Vancouver Bach Choir will also present Handel's Messiah on Dec. 12, alongside the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and an ensemble of four celebrated Canadian soloists: Simone Osborne, Susan Platts, Andrew Haji and Daniel Okulitch.
The Vancouver Bach Choir describes this adaptation of Handel's most famous oratorio as featuring divine harmonies, resounding orchestrations, sublime arias and, of course, the iconic Hallelujah chorus.