Angelene Grace
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Angelene Grace


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"Chosen to Compose"

Angie Tysseland did not exactly choose to compose music.
It's not that she minds, but Tysseland hears music singing and chiming in her head all the time. Composing rather chose her.
"It's not a conscious choice; you have to get it out," said Tysseland in an interview.
One of her most recent compositions is a huge one. Every day for two months, eight hours a day, Tysseland coaxed the songs of Awakening out of her brain and turned them into what she calls a labyrinth cantata. The Meewasin Valley Singers, along with four musicians, will premiere the eight-song work on Good Friday at 7 p.m. at Meewasin Valley United Church.
"It was like a summer job, the last thing I did before I entered the University of Saskatchewan for the third time."
Cantatas emerged during the baroque period as works combining solos and choruses with instrumental accompaniment. The form is based on narrative text, often sacred but also secular. J.S. Bach, for instance, is known for his cantatas of both kinds, including perhaps dozens of sacred works but also the lighthearted Coffee Cantata.
Tysseland's cantata is based on the structure of a labyrinth, she explains.
"It's a path with a centre. There's only one way in, and only one way out. It's a metaphor for life, for the spiritual journey," she says, noting it follows Jesus' path during the last days of his life as a metaphor for personal transformation.
Still, she adds, "it tells the death-rebirth myth around which Christianity is based, and every other major religion. This is an interface cantata; it draws from sacred teachings of various religions, not just Christianity." She also makes an environmental point in the work.
Awakening was written specifically for the small church choir and two soloists. At the Good Friday concert, 30 voices will be heard along with Tysseland on piano (and conducting), Staci Nahirney on bassoon, Marissa Myers on trumpet and Ross Nykiforuk on saxophone.
"It's quite choral sounding, nice four-part writing, a bed of sound on which the soloists float their lovely voices."
Tysseland balances the three musical endeavours of her life -- composing, conducting and playing -- as evenly as possible, calling it the ideal life for a musician. While she has written a great deal of music for the church, including two cantatas, a complete eucharist and all 150 Psalms, she has also done plenty of musical theatre as well. A batch of musical theatre productions have come up during the last few years as communities have celebrated milestone anniversaries.
"The theatre and the church basically do the same thing. They take stories of life and put them to music and act them out, on a daily or weekly basis."
Her present "day job" is completing her graduate studies in orchestral conducting at the U of- with Glen Gillis; she will graduate this summer. Her thesis is on the small orchestral works of Igor Stravinsky, particularly The Soldier's Tale.
Tysseland has also recently recorded a CD called Magdalene, which has not been officially released; she has been too busy to launch it, but it is available at McNally Robinson and online at arts/story.html?id=b7b9b68a-b3a4-4dc2-8e1f-9a9382c1aa55 - 69k - - The Star Phoenix

"Angel on the Roof"

Angel On the Roof
Saint James' Refiner's Choir
12 tracks

It's Saint Patrick's Day in Ontario, and here I sit listening to a Christmas record from Saskatchewan. While I know this slippage of time and space has mostly to do with a backup of events in my life, it also seems fitting that I have been taken into out-of-sync space by a recording that floats between eras yet has a unity that makes it, if not of any one time, timeless.

While Angel On the Roof has clearly been labelled a Christmas release and it does contain some songs that pertain specifically to Christmas, there's a depth here that makes it much more. This is Christian music that doesn't have that stiff, preaching-to-the-converted feel one so often hears from avowed Christian artists. But you don't have to be a believer to enjoy the music. This release has a strong pop feel that ranges through fifties rock and roll, seventies rock, folk, jazz, pop-blues, and just plain pop.

Eclectic as this release may be, Director Angie Tysseland brings to it a unity that feels less imposed than natural. More than simply twelve songs unconnected except by their Christian bent, Angel On the Roof is an inclusive and comprehensive work of art in which the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. After listening to this and the choir's earlier release, Go to the Rock, I've come to the conclusion that Tysseland has a special talent for drawing together disparate elements to create a seamless whole. That's quite a talent indeed.

Of all the songs on this release, there's only one that I find less than satisfactory. "What Child is This?" begins well but half-way through descends into a trance-inducing swing which loses the sense of both the words and the music. It feels like a movie dream sequence in soft focus with a tree-hung swing gliding unhaltingly back and forth in slow motion. The whole thing becomes very mechanical. This effect seems to begin just at the point that drums are introduced to the mix. The difference may easily be seen by comparing the flow of the first chorus to that of the last or by comparing this song to the lovely "The Peace Carol" four tracks earlier.

I've always been a fan of the "build" in musical arrangement, of songs that start small but include increasingly more elements for power and impact. This is a technique that Tysseland uses extremely well. The first track, "O Holy Night" drew me into the album with its excellent build of sound and emotion. Beginning with a lone piano with a decidely 'Fifties rock feel to it, then the beautiful voice of Terry Long, "O Holy Night" builds to include full instrumentation and a full and dramatic choral backup. The effect is, to say the least, powerful and moving.

The title song, and the only one written by Tysseland, "Angel On the Roof" is a simple and timeless pop song which seamlessly incorporates its Christian values. Once again, Terry Long's vocal presentation is flawless and lovely. The arrangement here is restrained, using the band and the choir only where they will most happily serve the song but allowing Long, accompanied by Tysseland's piano, to carry the song along.

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is, on the other hand, reminiscent of the big jazz-blues numbers of the mid-'Sixties. Latin rhythms carry richly choreographed vocals that fill this song with soul. A surprise is the 'Seventies rock guitar that slips into the mix fom time to time, adding another element to the character of this recording. "Rise Up Shepherd and Follow" also uses this big jazz feel to great effect.

"Please Come Home for Christmas" takes the listener even further up the blues road and features powerful vocals by Lorraine Hamilton. In a slow and driving way, this song really rocks.

Tysseland has a knack for choosing soloists well-suited to the songs they will sing. I was especially surprised by her choice of male vocalists. Over the years, I've become used to hearing harder voiced rock or gospel singers do songs like "The Christmas Song" and "Amen!" For all her male soloists, Tysseland has opted instead for softer voices that hark back to the era of Mel Torme and Eddie Fischer. What can I say? It works. For female singers, Tysseland has chosen a broader range of types, each ideally suited to the songs she sings.

Whether or not it's Christmas time, this release is a very special and enjoyable listen that should find a comfortable home in anyone's music collection.

For more information on Angel On the Roof and other releases by Saint James' Refiner's Choir, visit - Soundbytes

"Go to the Rock The Refiner's Fire"

Go to the Rock
The Refiner's Choir
12 tracks

Anyone who ever said church music is boring should listen to Go to the Rock. While the religious implication is clear, the music imbues this title with a positive pun. This music truly does rock. Quirky, with a slight leaning toward the eclectic, this is a release that should appeal to a broad audience.

Who would have thought that Saskatoon, a small city sitting on the edge of Saskatchewan's agricultural prairies populated largely by Scandinavians and other Northern peoples often considered to be very conservative, could produce such vital music? With the support of St. James' Anglican Church and her musical community, director Angie Tysseland has drawn something very exciting out of this prairie community.

This is big music. This nondenominational community choir draws from the senior and junior choirs of the sponsoring church, the community at large, and the professional music community of Saskatoon. It is truly a community effort. To bring such a large, diverse group of professionals and amateurs together and have them sound so good is a credit to Tysseland and all who work with her.

As I have suggested, this is not your granny's gospel. While many of the vocals could have as easily been performed in a choir a hundred years ago, there is a definite rock substructure to much of the music. This sound takes me back almost forty years, to the big gospel-infused rock music that then filled the airwaves. (Forty years? Maybe it is, after all, your granny's music. Sometimes I forget my advanced age.)

I hear many influences in this recording. Here is a Billy Preston keyboard adding spice to an already potent mix. In at least one song, I hear that strutting hambone based guitar rhythm made famous by Bo Diddley. The vocals and arrangements remind me most of big Sixties gospel groups such as The Edwin Hawkins Singers, who recorded such a powerful performance of "Lay Down" with Melanie Safka. I also hear bits of Lighthouse and Chicago and even The Beatles running through this music. At times, Godspell and Jesus Christ, Superstar come to mind. The program is an interesting mélange with a feel as much of urban New Orleans or California as the Canadian prairie.

This is a quirky program that makes sense perhaps in spite of itself. As an example, just as the listener is rocking into that full-blown gospel mood... there's track four. The music goes quiet. The rhythms are 1957 rock and roll. The song is Ricky Nelson's hit, "Lonesome Town," performed in a style not too different from the schmaltz-rock original. It's a perceptive choice by the programmer, whether Tysseland or someone else. In this context, the listener comes to realize the lyrics are well written and touch in no uncertain terms upon the human condition.

There's humour here too. The Tysseland penned "Nebuchadnezzar + the Boys" has a subtle humour that would go over as well in a folk club as a church. The lead vocal has an unmusical, almost spoken Cowsills feel that sets up Tysseland's lyrics and musical frolics beautifully. Although carried by a thumping pop-blues bass line, the song has more the feel of Sixties theatre ("Hair" comes to mind) or folk and country music. The combination of lyrics and instrumental backing suggests a passing resemblance to Brook Benton's "Shadrach, Meschak, and Abednego" from the early Sixties. The kicker, though, comes when the backup singers break into the chorus from Johnny Cash's hit, "Ring of Fire." Could it be that those long prairie winters do strange things to the songwriter's mind?

"I Feel Like Going Home" is another song with that Broadway feel about it. Written by rock and roll singer turned country balladeer Charlie Rich, this song is arranged here so that, more than country or rock and roll, it reminds me of songs like "I Don't Know How to Love Him."

I enjoy hearing work that is well done. I enjoy quirky material. I enjoy work where the artist is not afraid to take chances. So, do I like this recording? Yes. Would I recommend it? Yes. Everyone involved with this project is to be commended. In fact, I remain with only one complaint. I want more.

Those wishing to learn more about The Refiner's Choir or Go to the Rock will find complete information at

- Soundbytes

"Celebrating Women in Saskatoon"

Saskatoon’s Women’s Art
Festival, Her-icane GoDiva
offers many opportunities
for women and MEN to
enjoy the creative artistic
achievements of Saskatoon
women and celebrate with
One of the artists on cen-
tre stage is the ever-innova-
tive singer/songwriter, com-
poser/conductor ANGIE
TYSSELAND. After devel-
oping and directing St.
James’ Refiner’s Choir
through three recordings,
and constant touring from
1997 - 2002, being a lead
force in creating and devel-
oping the dynamic Refinery
Arts and Spirit Centre, writ-
ing several successful musi-
cals, and raising two chil-
dren, she has plunged back
into performance.
Her new work is a ‘mystic
opera,’ centered on Mary
Magdalene. It mixes ethere-
al piano with echoes of east-
ern chant in a candlelit,
contemplative atmosphere.
She says, “I have been
interested in world faiths, in
particular yoga and chanti-
ng, and I have been study-
ing the Christian mystics.”
Her opera and her multiple
interests came together just
recently on a retreat at a
Hindu ashram in - you
guessed it - Texas. “There
was no piano there, so I
used a harmonium to write.
It got me out of a rut,” she
says. At the retreat she met
a woman who runs another
retreat facility, and
Tysseland was invited to
stay and work on her piece
and play piano for
guests. “I composed
my work in the din-
ing room, while
entertaining,” she
says matter-of- factly.
It’s hard to believe
that Tysseland was
ever in a rut. She
began singing at age
three in the family
quartet orchestrated
by her father, a min-
ister and amateur
choir director. She
started playing
music in church, was teach-
ing piano at age 14, and
went on to study music at
university, continuing to
teach piano until age 30.
Then she returned to uni-
versity, this time studying
law. She also shifted to an
interest in jazz - the first
“out of a rut experience!”
With a concern for peace
and justice issues, Angie
works with an Inner City
Choir, the “Lift Me Up
Community Singers.”
She is pleased that the
Refinery is becoming such a
creative centre for projects
like Her-icane, and a range
of classes from tai chi to
chanting. “It has become a
place for creative people to
get plugged in – especially
for those new to town.”
As for what’s next: fur-
ther development of her
opera, and stay tuned for
“Tune Town – A History of
Saskatoon,” a centennial
musical she is collaborating
on with playwright Don
Kerr. - The Neighbourhood Express



Angie Tysseland (1996)
Safe Passage (with SAGE, 1998)
All I See (with Terry Long, 2003)


The Refiner's Fire (1997)
Go to the Rock (2000)
Angel on the Roof (2001)

Magdalene (2007)



The gnostic gospels and world religions provide raw material for Grace's finely-crafted lyrics. She sings provocative music with an inter-spirituality focus. Influenced by Yogic chant and Sufi choirs, Hindu trance music and Western art music, the tunes have the etheric radiance of Enya with the unpredictable edge of Beck.

The artist also known as Angie Tysseland distinguished herself first as a classical chamber musician, then as a songwriter, and most recently as the founding conductor of the infamous gospel choir "The Refiner's Fire." She has received numerous awards for her work in the Saskatoon community including the YWCA's "Woman of Distinction" for arts and culture in 1999. She is a scholar of music theory and has a M.Mus in Conducting from the University of Saskatchewan. Grace is an international student of yoga, traveling extensively exploring the latest in the dynamics of sound, health, spirituality, and movement.

This music is totally inclusive and no one is left out, not even atheists and pagans, with whom she shares a special affinity.