Ottawa Choral Workshops tackles Orff’s Carmina Burana


Ottawa Choral Workshops director Roland Graham at rehearsal. This fall, the group will mount an ambitious production of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The 11-week workshop begins September 11, leading to performances in November.

By Roland Graham

This fall, Ottawa Choral Workshops mounts its most ambitious production to date: Carl Orff’s mighty Carmina Burana, the famous 20th-century masterpiece for choir, orchestra and soloists, which it will present in a pair of concerts at Southminster United Church in late November.

Hot on the heels of successful workshops this past spring and summer that culminated in rousing performances in May (Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb), July (a summer festival evensong) and August (national anthems at an Ottawa Titans baseball game), the program rides significant momentum as it prepares to dive into one of the most loved masterworks for choir of the past century.

Carmina Burana needs little introduction. Famous for its captivating blend of powerful melodies, rhythmic energy and dramatic storytelling, the piece resonates timeless themes of love, fortune and fate, elements that connect with singers and audiences alike on a profound level.

Set predominantly in Latin – with a bit of ‘Middle High’ German thrown in – the score offers singers a perfect cocktail of musical challenge and reward. An effective reading requires nuanced musicianship and a good measure of vocal stamina; learning the score facilitates these, offering not only great educational value, but also a thrilling, immersive and unforgettable sonic experience.

Beginning on September 11, over the course of 11 weeks, participants will learn the music through a schedule of weekly rehearsals and sectionals in preparation for a pair of concerts presented in the last week of November. The first of these will be a day-time concert for local school children, who in many cases will never have experienced a large scale “classical” music production involving massed choir, percussion array and vocal soloists; the second, an evening gala event to celebrate the accomplishments of participants before the community.

Starting with a review of singing fundamentals, the fall workshop will explore sound production, vowel and consonant management, breath control and blending of voices required for large scale choral productions. Participants will also be introduced to singing in Latin along with the 20th century harmonic and rhythmical idioms that pervade Orff’s imaginative score.

Spurred on by the enthusiastic return to group singing post-pandemic, Ottawa Choral Workshops is enjoying a return to singing with vitality and passion not seen since pre-2020. Originating as a training program for novice choral singers in the summer of 2015, the program has evolved into a movement that offers a unique approach to learning and experiencing choral music. Based on the idea that anyone, regardless of their skill level, can enjoy profound and transformative musical experiences, I founded and developed a unique training model for group singing that breaks down barriers and supports participants in accessing their musical potential.

Workshop overview

  • Dates: Sept. 11–Nov. 24
  • Primary Rehearsals: Monday evenings 7-9 p.m.
  • Sectionals and secondary rehearsals: Wednesday afternoons/evenings
  • ‘Educational’ concert (for school kids): Thursday, Nov. 23, 10 a.m.
  • Carmina Burana performance: Friday, Nov. 24, 7 p.m.
  • Fee: $380 (HST included)

Pay-what-you-can fees: New this year, sliding scale fees are now available to people for whom workshop fees are a barrier. Reach out through our new website,, to inquire.

To encourage the leaders out there, experienced singers may audition to participate in the workshop for no fee in exchange for their leadership contribution. Leads should be confident singers who are available for the bulk of the sessions and able to hold their part while others are learning. Inquire through our new website,

Roland Graham is the founder and director of Ottawa Choral Workshops.

Photo: Andrew Balfour

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