Germany’s award-winning, unconventional 25-member Jazzchor Freiburg recently made its second tour of Japan. The choir is characterized by unpredictability, as its founder-conductor believes it is boring for audiences to know what is coming next. He throws into a typical concert as much variety as he can, with jazz following Bach, a tap dance coming after a ballet number, a sax solo succeeding an African song. He also includes original works by members of the choir. He creates original concerts that are packed with energy, vibrancy and life.
His all-embracing attitude toward the music exactly fits the outlook and temperament of singer Patricia Schmid, manager and member of Jazzchor Freiburg. Before embarking on her career, she reacted against being tied down to any genre. For her, every musical and rhythmic expression has value and its own validity. She said “It’s the unusual specialty of Bertrand Groeger, the conductor of Jazzchor Freiburg, that he brings in classical background harmonies. In Germany, popular groups are always popping up. Our conductor is distinctive as he really excels in bringing in his own ideas and arrangements.”
Patricia grew up, she said, in a German village in a wine and vegetable-growing area. The village was near the Black Forest, next to the Rhine River, providing surroundings that were idyllic for a sensitive, artistic child. Patricia, merry and aspiring, calls herself “not really a professional, but semiprofessional.” Singing, though, is a prime motivation and enjoyment for her.
She began singing at school, and remembers with special affection a school production of “West Side Story.” She continued singing at university, and was always ready to perform as a vocalist for the university band and for good causes that needed support. She had classical voice training, as well as vocal lessons in jazz. She took piano lessons “and parallel things.” She said “I realized classical music, a lot of times, was very much attached to church and Christian music. My heart was not totally with that. I was more and more into jazz and popular music — that gave me goose bumps.”
Patricia has been with Jazzchor Freiburg from its very early days. Almost 10 years ago, she went on tour with an international musical show, “Up with People.” She said that this show, founded in the 60s, is still around. With interruptions, she stayed with it during its tours around the world. She came to live in Tokyo in March 1998.
“I followed my heart,” Patricia said. “My husband was already working in Japan. We married here. It was very romantic, in cherry blossom time, with our ceremony at the ambassador’s residence.”
In the Tokyo music world, Patricia met “some really nice musicians in the jazz scene. They had me sing with them, and helped me organize the two Jazzchor Freiburg tours of Japan. They were really strongly motivated to get them here, and introduce them to Japan. Really amazing. I think music-wise you can set up very rare relationships here. I really felt at home.”
Patricia kept up her singing for charity in Tokyo. “I did Marlene Dietrich, cabaret-style performances,” she said. “My grandmother was a singer on a radio station, and she used to perform popular hits of the time. I learned from her.”
Her main love, she said, is for the stage. “It just gives something to people. You see the smiles and astonishment.” Color, costumes, lights, sound and immediacy create a pulsing world where she feels she belongs and can do her best. At the same time, she can step outside a theater and carry with her a little of its magic to scatter over more modest audiences. “I have sung for much older people in Japan, traditional songs without sheet music,” she said. “It’s a matter of training. I love karaoke, too, and going out to sing festival songs.”
Patricia toured with the Jazzchor Freiburg throughout Japan, winding up with only a few days left for herself. Then she went to Germany. She was going straight back into rehearsal for another big concert, and was undertaking to set up a new home for herself and her husband as they relocate. She has plans to return to Japan, and perhaps to set up an office here. “I am very much looking forward to that,” she said.