Forty years and going strong. The vocal cords and melodic harmonies of the Castenchel choir. Last night the choir celebrated what they hope will be the first concert in a post pandemic tour. A fortieth anniversary concert was in the makings in 2020, and then all laid aside for a small virus, the size of a dust mite.
Yes, it wreaked havoc on choirs and songsters around the world last year. Singing allows us to make connections with each other and with our soul, music is the ultimate spiritual food. But, the last 21 months has rendered many of us silent. No one wants to be a super spreader of the Covid – 19 nasty bug. Sixty choralists enthusiastically showed up for practise in Mont Vernon Washington and forty five of them ended up ill back in March of 2020, just a week shy of this pesky plague making its appearance on the world stage. Choirs all over folded up shop, including ours.
We went to zoom, and although it was very odd singing into a void, especially for the working members who zoomed all day long, we managed it, and recorded and were always cheerfully encouraged on by our director Lee Carter. Finally, last night Dec. 3rd we sang at the Wakefield Community Centre with our masks on, but still, we sang !!
One of the original members sat in the audience listening – Rene Nielsen, what a pleasure to have her join us.
I wonder if she ever dreamt back in 1979 that a pandemic would interrupt our music.
The origins of the choir began in Chelsea, when an eccumenical service was arranged at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church. The organizers discovered they had no singers to offer choral music and so an ad hoc group of friends and family gathered together to give essence and atmosphere to the event. It was a success, and the group began to meet regularly. Original member Huguette Roussy recalls their first practise on Feb. 7th 1980. The group agreed to continue singing and offered music in both languages right away.
These hills are alive with artists and the sound of music filling each venue evolved organically and involved members from the surrounding communities. Many of them with high qualifications , prize winners, Masters from Europe and the usual eclectic and talented sampling of Gatineau Hill folks . We have come to take this amazing place and its artists in our stride and yet , at the same time marvel and remain so grateful for the gifts that surround us.
Castechel formed by using the names of the communities Cantley, Tenaga and Chelsea. It has grown now to boast members from Wakefield, Masham, Hull and Ottawa.
The choir has had many members come and go, many directors fly in and out, and the current choir is very grateful for the commitment of our current director and accompanist. Lee Carter and Nicole Bélécque make an awesome duo. With their leadership the mandate of Sing Laugh and Learn is made manifest at each rehearsal and each performance. They are so much fun and we can’t believe our good fortune to have their full commitment . They tease out the very best in us and when Lee’s highest praise can sometimes be “ That didn’t suck”, we all laugh and try harder. When he says, “That was lovely”, we go home with a warm glow and can’t wait to get back at it.
The choir members have changed, and the uniforms have as well. We pondered recently if ticket sales would increase if we became a nude choir, in keeping with the general themes up here of nude fundraising, however, with our grey hairs and after forty years of singing, it actually might be more of a deterrent.
The choir tackles challenging pieces in many different languages, Russian, Japanese, Arabic, Swahili, German, Italian and remains undaunted by the challenges each one presents. We sing jazz, classical, swing, pop, commercials, Gordon Lightfoot, barbershop, you name it, we will learn it.
The choir has travelled and sung from France to Transylvania, and on the covered bridge in Wakefield.
We now have a website, and a facebook page and are contemplating twitter, but we prefer to tweet in a performance hall.
We refuse to let a creepy-crawly variant of any kind ruin our fun and so, we will press on , with or without masks, we have had singing.
“ Singing, singing, oh the singing . There was so much singing then. We all sang and this was my pleasure too. The boys in the fields, chapels full of singing. Here I lie, I have had pleasure enough, I have had singing.” Excerpt from I have had singing Fred Mitchell
Jennifer Currie ( soprano)