In The New Normal—our new interview series—we speak to the musicians and staff of Tafelmusik, to ask how working and performing in new ways has changed our routines, and our operations as a performing arts organization.
Tafelmusik: The phrase “the new normal” has become a staple of our everyday vernacular. What does “the new normal” mean for you, as it relates to your life, and your work with Tafelmusik?
Cory Knight: Haha, great question! I’m trying to just go with the flow these days, to be flexible and responsive, and to not overthink things. When everything shut down last March and our music halls went silent, I remember thinking, “Well, now what?!” But here we are a year later, and we’ve been making music, despite it all. We’ve found a way. And so, I guess what I’ve learned is that even though the world around us seems to be changing by the minute, the resilience of the human spirit—especially when we work together to rise to a challenge—remains constant. Humans have always faced adversity. And we’ve always made music—often because of the adversities we face. That’s just who we are.
TM: As a tenor and member of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, how did you—or do you—keep your voice exercised from home, when we were unable to gather? What does practice during a pandemic look like for a professional choir member?
CK: I try to keep up with the pre-pandemic routines, mostly. I focus on learning music for upcoming projects and do exercises to maintain strength and agility. With fewer concerts, there’s definitely been a reduction in the amount of music I need to learn. So, I’ve been enjoying dusting off old scores and revisiting music I haven’t sung in a while.
TM: Have you yet had the opportunity or experience of singing in a mask? What is it like?
CK: I have, and it’s a strange feeling. As classical singers we train to send our voices out into the room, and to do that naturally (without amplification) we need to maximize the resonating spaces in the head and body. When you get it just right, the sound focuses and flies into the concert hall.
The challenge with the masks, at least for me and how I feel things when I sing, is that this sensation of projecting the voice is dulled. BUT, it’s not impossible to sing with a mask. It does work, and it can be effective. And, honestly, I’d rather sing with a mask than not at all. So—back to that resilience thing I was talking about before—we just make it work. You trust in your technique and the feedback of your colleagues and you just do it.
TM: What have you missed most about being away from our physical space, our home base at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre?
CK: I miss a lot. Firstly, it’s such an amazing hall to sing in! It’s generous to the voice, and makes singing feel easy. I miss the charm (and food options!) of the Annex neighbourhood. I miss the mix of people and events that share the space. There’s such a lovely community vibe to the building, and I think that’s great.
Tenor Cory Knight, right, performing with tenor Nicholas Burns, left, with Tafelmusik Chamber Choir and Orchestra in Jeanne Lamon Hall. Photo by Dahlia Katz.
TM: How has the “new normal” affected your work outside of Tafelmusik?
CK: I’ve been very lucky to have been able to keep singing in some capacity through all of this. I’m an Artistic Associate with Toronto Consort, and I’ve had a few virtual projects over the last year as well. I’m also a teacher with the Toronto Catholic District School Board, and I’m currently teaching a grade 5 class virtually. They’re a lovely bunch of students, and I’m very thankful for and inspired by their energy, curiosity, and perseverance.
TM: Are there any socially distant activities you have been enjoying?
CK: When the weather's good, I love a nice, long walk through the city. Exploring the trails in Don Valley. Relaxing in a park. Getting down to the waterfront. Also, virtual movie nights and game nights with friends and family.
TM: You are moderating our next panel discussion series, Tafel Talks: Emotional Rescue. Can you tell us a little bit about your experiences or thoughts on how choirs promote well-being? Foster community?
CK: I think there’s a lot to unpack here and I’m very much looking forward to hearing what the panel has to say about this.
For me, I think that singing in a choir taps into the emotional connection that humans get from sharing in an experience together, as well as music’s deeply satisfying ability to communicate in ways that go well beyond what words can express. Singing in a choir is both a physical and an emotional experience. Our breathing aligns, our bodies vibrate, and our sounds and words become messages. There’s this sense of being included in something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. I’ve always found this exhilarating, humbling, and very soothing.
Also, when we think about ways to support our mental health, singing in a choir is an excellent place to find those things that can really help. You’ve got the social aspect of being around other people in a structured environment, and the emotional aspect of exploring and sharing thoughts and feelings with each other. I highly recommend it!
6-year-old Cory dancing at the Rhine Danube Club in his hometown. (He’s the one in the suspenders.)
TM: What kinds of music are you most often listening to these days? Any “top picks” to share with our audiences?
CK: This is a tough one! I’m a bit scattered with my tastes. One thing I can say that I’ve always enjoyed is listening to things from the past (surprise!). I was fortunate to inherit my grandparents’ vinyl records, and when I’m looking to relax or escape, I enjoy putting on the old crooners or the recordings by the musicians from the old German dance halls. I grew up in the German halls dancing with family and friends. So, when I hear a good polka or waltz, I can’t help but get up and dance around (with or without a partner!).
I’d recommend Patsy Cline’s album Showcase if you’re looking for something to enjoy while making dinner. Or anything by Frankie Yankovic and/or an album called In the Mood for Gemütlichkeit, if you’re looking to practice those polka moves.
Cory Knight is the moderator of Tafel Talks: Emotional Rescue: a conversation featuring panelists from Brooklyn, San Diego, and Toronto, which explores how choral singing affects our minds and bodies, and how choirs help us connect with each other.
Learn more about Knight, and choir singing, on Thu Mar 18, 2021 at 7pm EST. Learn more, and buy your ticket here.