Singers Marlin Toftager and Jackie Block, seen in pre Coronavirus times, have shared their recently-completed version of Josef Rheinberger’s sacred choral piece ‘Abendlied’ on YouTube. (Contributed photo)

Semiahmoo Peninsula singer joins voices with vocal partner to form virtual choir

Singers share sacred choral piece online as antidote for dark times

Many musical performers are sharing their talents online during COVID-19 quarantine – but Jackie Block and Marlin Toftager’s version of Abendlied, by Josef Rheinberger, takes the idea to the next level.

It’s an exquisite classical/sacred choral composition, beautifully sung – and shared with others, as the Peninsula-raised Block explains, as “a possible source of comfort during this dark time.”

Through multi-tracking and layering – not to mention innate vocal ability – the duo covered all six parts of Rheinberger’s composition, achieving a magnificently musical blend.

The result can be heard on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UP0uOU-xtNM&feature=youtu.be

Long-time friends and frequent musical collaborators, they explained they decided to make a home recording of the three and a half minute piece primarily as a gift and blessing for their parents.

“We both come from musical Mennonite backgrounds and thought Abendlied would be a good choice,” Block said.

“(It) was really inspired by our parents’ support for us over the years; every voice lesson and performance opportunity that they were behind – and there were many,” Toftager said, adding that he comes from “a musical family where instruments and singing were just an everyday occurrence.”

“It was our way of thanking them for giving us those opportunities. Currently, in such a dark time filled with uncertainty, we thought sharing it with our friends might be a positive break from chaos in an uplifting three minutes.”

“Music is such a powerful healing tool,” commented Block – an Elgin Park graduate and member of the equally musical Block clan – also well known as both a bass-player and actor (in such shows as White Rock Players Club’s A Comedy of Tenors).

“It’s great that it can unite us in these trying times, and I’m glad that people are putting together various musical pieces to support each other.”

The piece is a setting of a text based on Luke 24:29, she explained. In a translation by choral composer John Rutter, it reads: “Bide with us, for evening shadows darken… And the day will soon be over, soon be over…O Bide with us, for evening shadows darken.”

“Even though the song is in German, Rheinberger’s composition is so beautifully written we felt that alone would move people,” Block said.

“But if you read the translation of the piece, it truly is fitting for this dark time.”

The two met at Trinity Western University, through the Chamber Singers, they said.

“We became good friends and felt our voices blended well together,” Block said.

“We often collaborated together through recitals, competitions and recordings throughout the years. He’s a very talented tenor.”

“I knew she was a talented musician before I knew our personalities would gain a special bond that has turned into an 18-year friendship,” Toftager said.

He added that, at one point, as members of their small chamber group, they actually had to be separated.

“Our inside jokes kept interrupting our concentration,” he recalled.

“As our humour became the central force of our friendship, so did our desire to perform together… we have pretty much woven our love for singing throughout our entire friendship.”

The duo’s collaborations have ranged from classical and sacred pieces to show tunes (a duet of ‘A Whole New World,’ from Aladdin, can also be found on YouTube), but there’s no question that Abendlied – started in pre-coronavirus December and completed just as the pandemic was forcing social distancing and self-isolation in March – represents their most sophisticated collaboration to date.

“We didn’t have access to any sophisticated recording equipment – we only had my Mac computer with Garageband and mic,” Block said.

“It was very humble. I lent my computer to Marlin first where he laid down all the male parts. Then he layered each part three times each to get that full choir sound. I did the same for the female parts – it took quite a lot of time.”

“Vocally one of the most challenging parts was making sure all our consonants lined up, and shaping our vowels the same, but because we’ve sung together, it wasn’t as difficult as it might have been, with different singers, to get the full choral effect,” Toftager said.

While there are some things they might have liked to improve about the recording, he agreed that the technical aspects of choral work present exactly the same challenges even when every singer is in the same room.

“And, as a performer, you’re always a harsher judge than anyone else would be,” he said. “But there does come a point when you have to be lenient with yourself.”

There was an element of serendipity, he noted – at one point in laying down his parts he was sick (but not with COVID-19).

“One of the most challenging parts for me, personally, was recording the bass parts – as a tenor, that’s not my natural zone of singing,” he said.

“But on one of the lowest notes – because I was kind of sick – my voice actually lent itself to that – I was able to nail it,” he laughed .

“I thought ‘OK, this is perfect.”

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