Taking the Sound of the Yukon to a National Stage

As the name suggests, Whitehorse Community Choir (WCC) is all about community. The choir draws upon the people of Whitehorse and surrounding communities for its singers, accompanists, audience, inspiration and, ultimately – the most important thing in the life of a choir – its sound.

On July 1, the community choir, along with two associate choirs, the Persephone Singers and the Chamber Choir, will take their sound to Ottawa. As part of the annual Unisong Choral Festival, they will sing with and for choir members and audiences from around the country and the globe.

“Unisong has been bringing together choirs from across Canada since 1997,” says director Barb Chamberlin. “It’s an excellent festival that will give our choirs exposure and an awesome experience. Because this is part of the Canada 150 celebration, there will be a lot of “Canada fever” there, and it will be great for Yukoners to be part of that.”

The festival’s main event is a mass choir concert on July 1st at the Shaw Centre in Ottawa. The Whitehorse choirs will arrive in the capital city on June 27, just in time for several days of intense rehearsals with hundreds of other singers from across the country. They will be led by guest conductor Lydia Adams, also the artistic director of the Elmer Iseler Singers – who performed in Whitehorse earlier this year – and the Amadeus Choir of Greater Toronto.

“As a conductor, I have the option of observing or singing in the mass choir,” says Chamberlin. “My plan is to sing; it’s a great way for me to learn as well.”

In addition to the mass choral performance, the Whitehorse choirs will perform in other concerts, some under the umbrella of Unisong and some organized by the WCC itself. In the latter category, the Whitehorse choirs will sing on July 2 in Pembroke, a concert shared with the Pembroke Community Choir. It came about through work Chamberlin is currently doing with Conrad Boyce, a former Yukoner now living in Pembroke.

On July 6, the two auditioned choirs, the Persephone Singers and the Chamber Choir, will take part in Music and Beyond, a unique classical music and multi-disciplinary arts festival focusing on music and its links with other cultural disciplines, including visual art, drama, poetry, dance, architecture, circus, magic, science, comedy, law, food and wine and yoga.

Approximately 45 choristers are heading to Ottawa, along with conductor Chamberlin, accompanists Barry Kitchen and Cheryl Wishart, and featured soloist Sylvie Painchaud.

And, in a sense, the choir will be taking with them a very significant piece of the Yukon. While in Ontario, they will showcase specially-commissioned songs, some performed in the past and some which are new to the choirs this year. The songs have a unique Yukon character, because local poets, songwriters and arrangers created them together with well-known Canadian composers and arrangers.

“The result is a set of just beautiful songs,” says Chamberlin. One song, called “Crystal Trees,” has lyrics by Yukon poet Lex Widdis, with music by Lydia Adams. The song Annie Lake Road features words and music by Painchaud, arranged by another Yukoner, Olivier de Colombel.

This is not the first time the Whitehorse Community Choir has gone to Unisong. The festival began two decades ago, and the choir travelled to Unisong in the year 2000, under the leadership of then-conductor Rachel Grantham, to take part in special celebrations for the turn of the millennium.

Choir member Michèle Markley sang at Unisong in 2000 and she is in this year’s Whitehorse contingent, as well.

“Part of the reason I’m going again is that I love the experience of being part of a big sound, like a big choir can make,” says Markley. “That’s really why I’ve been a member of the choir in Whitehorse since 1993. It’s so cool being part of that big sound. And, there is also the benefit of working with another conductor, and being exposed to other choirs and conductors, and to their perspective and approach.”

Chamberlin agrees that a trip like this can only be a good thing. The preparations, the rehearsals in Ottawa and the performances all make for better choirs.

And speaking of preparation, there has been a lot of that for everyone involved. Planning for the trip began several years ago, including funding applications to commission new songs. Workshops were held with visiting conductors and choirs, additional rehearsals and performances were scheduled, and the choirs learned about 20 songs, including those for the mass choir performance and their own repertoire.

Chamberlin is grateful for the many individuals, businesses and organizations who have made this project a reality, including support from the Yukon government’s Arts Fund; those who supported fundraising efforts; the Wykes’ Independent Grocery store, which helped the choirs set up a fundraising burger and hot dog stand; and Air North, which gave choir members a special price to fly to Ottawa.

Those are just a few more examples of what puts the “community” in the Whitehorse Community Choir.

Ring in the Holidays with Song

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