Collecting songs of the North

Songs tell the stories of places, and the Whitehorse Community Choir Yukon Song

Project reflects the stories of the North. The WCC choir director Barb Chamberlain, and Susanne Hingley are collecting poems and writings of the Yukon. The goals: to compile a library of Yukon songs, and to set Yukon poetry/writing to music.

“We really want to emphasize modern Yukon in this project,” Chamberlain says. “We want to include songs from today, not just gold rush songs or songs a tourist would hear.”

For example, Chamberlain’s own contribution to this musical library is a little ditty called “Dog of Shame.”

“They say in the Yukon there are more dogs than people,” says Chamberlain, who has lived in the territory since 1984. “‘Dog of Shame’ was inspired by a road trip I took with a friend and her huge dog named Jesus – and Jesus was a troublemaker.”

Chamberlain quotes the lyrics, “I’m a good dog in a bad place/An innocent pooch in disgrace/And I wouldn’t cause any trouble/If you would just take off this muzzle.”

It’s just one of roughly 100 songs and poems that were submitted to the choir by the January 10th deadline. After a jury whittles the submissions down to 15 songs and poems, the choir will hire 15 Yukon composers to arrange 15 songs for the choir. Vancouver-based choral composer Stephen Chatman will mentor the composers as they create their choral arrangements.

Finally, in the spring of 2015, the choir will premiere the songs at a special concert in Whitehorse.

At the moment, WCC organizers have not made public their plans for how, nor where, the complete library of Yukon songs will be housed, or how it will be made accessible to the public. Though, the project directors have thoughts and dreams about future performances of the material.

The choir hopes to perform the songs on the national stage at the Pan Am games in Toronto in the summer of 2015.

“It’s a goal for the Pan Am Games organizers to bring a choir from every province and territory to sing at the games,” Chamberlain says. “Our musical library is still in the works, but it would be a great by-product for the Whitehorse Community Choir to eventually go out and represent the territory with this Yukon-specific material.”

Meanwhile, the Whitehorse 2015 spring concert premiere will feature all four choirs under their umbrella: the Persephone Choir for women; The Neptunes, a choir (mostly) for men; the Chamber Choir; and the Community Choir.

Love for the Yukon is shared in many of the songs and poems collected thus far. For example, Whitehorse writer Joanna Lilley’s poems have been selected for the musical library. One of the things Lilley, born in England, loves most about the Yukon is the fresh snow.

“I love other things too, of course: the light in winter and in summer, the shocking vastness of the forest, the chance to see animals in their natural habitat,” says Lilley. “And I love the arts community here and how so many people are finding ways to do what they love most.

“This project is a wonderful concept, to get artists working together to create music that will share the joy of Yukon with a huge audience. Magical things happen when artists from different disciplines collaborate.”

Collaboration will bring a new dimension to the poems Lilley submitted to the WCC about the Yukon.

“I wrote them as poems rather than songs and so would find the process of working with a musician to make them into songs fascinating,” Lilley says. “I’m in awe of songwriters and how they manage to not only put words together but also add a musical dimension.”

Singer-songwriter Brenda Berezan has the musical dimension covered in her contribution to the WCC library. Her tune, “Old Man in the Yukon” was inspired by former Yukoner Rod Tait, who passed away several years ago.

“Rod and his wife Enid came up to the Yukon from Alberta many decades ago to help run a government experimental farm outside of Haines Junction,” Berezan says. “What inspired me about Rod’s story was that he left behind everything he knew, with no guarantees here, and fell in love with the Yukon.”

Yukon lovers, and Yukon-song lovers, will have a chance to check out the collection of Yukon songs in the spring of 2015 when the WCC performs the project’s 15 new chorals works. However, submissions for the WCC library of Yukon songs and writing is currently closed.

Can’t wait until spring 2015 to hear the WCC sing? The choir will be performing what they call “hippie protest songs” at the Yukon Arts Centre on May 1 and 2.

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