St. John’s: Choral Mecca

Downtown St. John's

UPDATE: I’m so pleased at the traction this post appears to be getting. If you don’t live in Newfoundland, it should definitely be at the top of your tourism wish-list, and make sure to take in a choral concert while you’re here! Please check out my Facebook page or the rest of my social media profiles by using the buttons to the right.  Thanks for reading!

We are all still mourning the untimely and indefinite hiatus of Festival 500. I feel that it was only fitting that choral singers from all over the world made a regular biennial pilgrimage to our fair city for such a long time. It would be very difficult for me to prove this, but I enjoy the very real hypothesis that St. John’s has more choirs per capita than any other city in Canada.

St. John’s has grown leaps and bounds since my wife and I moved here in 2005. In almost 10 years, due mostly to the success of the provincial government in securing energy deals that will bring billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, the city has produced an enormous amount of urban sprawl. Most of this sprawl extends outward away from the downtown city core on newly developed lands with row after row of new houses. While the city is growing in people and industry, it still only takes me about 20 minutes to drive from what we call the ‘East End’ to the ‘West End’ in a moderate amount of traffic. It’s very small and it continues to be my most favourite attribute.

Packed tightly into this small geographic space is what can only be described as an impressive amount of choral activity. Newfoundland has a deep historical connection to singing and song-writing, and that, coupled with a strong focus on singing and choir in the school system over many years, has helped produce a massive multi-generational community of choral enthusiasts. We boast a diverse and vibrant collection of organizations; from top-notch school choirs participating in provincial and national festivals, to church and community choirs who sing for fun and do tons of charitable work, to a brag-inducing number of world class semi-professional choirs who have brought home some of the choral art’s highest achievements. And we’re all pretty tight.

Because of geographical boundaries, these organizations could not possibly stand completely alone. They are inextricably entangled. Choral families are joined by the inevitable marriages of members who freely pass from group to group.  I myself have had stretches where I sang in many groups simultaneously and I was not the only one. How could you resist so many great singing opportunities that are all within a 10 minute drive from one another?

This has of course caused difficulties as well. When choirs are competing for the same venues and the same “perfect dates”, it’s impossible to avoid scheduling conflicts. Concerts occasionally occur on the same dates in venues that are even next to each other or just down the street. But there’s a silver lining. Our audience is huge and it rocks. When we’re not singing, we support our fellow choir families with an almost weekly docket of choral concerts to attend. Our proud families come to see us shine in concert. The city is filled with choir lovers who still manage to fill the cavernous Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist for an annual two-night Christmas tradition of Handel’s Messiah. As the city grows, so does our audience and our community.

People work hard to keep this community thriving and it’s only getting better. 2014 brought the announcement of a generous endowment to Memorial University by Drs. Jean and Angus Bruneau, established as the Bruneau Centre for Excellence in Choral Music. This endowment means hundreds of thousands of dollars will continue to flow into the healthy choral scene to help it evolve with the growing and changing population.

It’s an exciting place to live and even more exciting place to be a choral singer and conductor. I would start spouting off names of awesome choirs to you, but it would be impossible not to leave someone off the list. Google “Newfoundland Choir” and be amazed by the number of results. You will not be disappointed.

Thank you, Bruneaus. We won’t let you down.

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