Our history

Silver anniversary a golden opportunity for those who love singing

Rachelle Drouin, with source files from Festival Singers, Sherwood Park News and Strathcona County This Week
Edmonton, Alberta — September 10, 2018

For some, September and back to school may not be anything to sing about. However, for choristers in Strathcona County and surrounding areas, September signals the start of rehearsals. Indeed, for the members of Festival Singers, this September offers even more reason to celebrate: 2018/2019 marks the choir’s twenty-fifth season, culminating in a gala next May.

It’s no small coincidence that Festival Singers shares its name with Festival Place, Strathcona County’s premier arts and business venue.

A quarter century ago, planning for the facility’s official opening was well underway. Recognizing the potential for community activities at Festival Place, Karen Ann Harvey, a founding member of Sherwood Park Singers, proposed the formation of a community chorus. Such a group, she maintained, would afford adults the opportunity to sing a wide range of music while working toward a high performance standard. Practising weekly at Festival Place, this new chorus would allow members to refine their skills and deliver performances as a natural extension of the venue. The first of these, Harvey continued, would be at the gala opening of Festival Place in May 1994.

Moved by Harvey’s proposal, the Board of Directors of Festival Place, led by artistic director George Cotton, announced the formation of Festival Singers in December 1993.

“The Festival Singers truly personify the essence of Festival Place,” said Cotton. “It is a community group working in partnership with Festival Place and performing in a facility that is visioned, funded and managed by the community, for the community.”

Soon after, in January 1994, Bruce Cable, whose experience spans jazz, classical and musical theatre, assumed the role of choir director.

Responding to an advertisement in the January 18, 1994, issue of Sherwood Park News, enthusiastic singers auditioned, and, when rehearsals began in March, Festival Singers comprised 62 choristers.

Following a successful first public performance at the official opening of Festival Place May 14, 1994, Festival Singers embarked on its first full season in 1994/1995. At the invitation of the Premier’s Council in Support of Alberta Families, the choir delivered a small public performance to help mark the International Year of the Family. This was followed participation in the Festival of Carols and a holiday concert, also in December 1994, and a spring concert in May 1995.

Drawing from a vast musical repertoire, Festival Singers aims to present not only familiar songs, but also lesser‑known arrangements from around the world. In 2009, for instance, choristers presented Christmas songs from Africa and West India, among other countries, during its holiday concert at the Winspear Centre. Sung in their original language, these pieces offered audiences variety apart from mainstream music. Also featured was a Casavant organ courtesy the University of Alberta. Founded in 1879, Casavant Frères is one of the best known and most respected pipe organ builders in the world.

“As it is very seldom allowed to leave its home at Convocation Hall, we are honoured to have [this organ] with us for this concert,” noted chorister Grace Lommerts.

In addition to world music, Festival Singers is committed to honouring our Canadian identity. In April 2009, the choir premiered ”A Prayer” by Edmonton composer Joel Forth. Written especially for the Festival Singers, Forth’s music sensitively sets the powerful text to produce an inspiring plea to the divine. This special spring concert, led by director Melanie Marlin, featured choral works by other Canadian composers, including Stephen Hatfield, Michael Unger, Gary Ewer, Connie Kaldor, Willi Zwozdesky and Allan Bevan.

The concert was also a tribute of another sort. Held April 28, 2009, it was dedicated to former chorister and founding member Karen Ann Harvey, who was battling a terminal illness.

The dedication was to “let her know how much she’s appreciated,” said chorister Penny Christofferson of Harvey, who did a lot of work behind the scenes to maintain the choir’s profile and ensure its continued success.

This loving tribute underlines Festival Singers’ commitment to creating positive experiences for its members. Although the choir’s mandate is to provide opportunities for individual skill enhancement in choral music, members often attest the enjoyable social and therapeutic benefits they derive from being part of this tight-knit group.

“I joined Festival Singers on the advice of an Edmonton choir director,” says tenor Corey Lee. “I suffered a car crash in 2002. When I began showing signs of PTSD in 2003, Festival Singers helped me through it. I’ve been with them ever since.”

These benefits extend beyond Festival Singers’ membership to the community at large. Festival Singers strives to remain community oriented, of and for the people of Strathcona County. Since its inception 25 years ago, the chorus has maintained not only strong partnerships with its titular venue, Festival Place, but also with such organizations as the Alberta Choral Federation. Performances at seniors’ residences, the Alberta Legislature and Festival of Trees are but a few examples of the choir’s commitment to advancing the arts and cultural development in our region.

Today, Festival Singers continues to recruit talent on an ongoing basis. Open to anyone over the age of 16, the choir invites those with a love of singing, regardless of previous training or musical ability, to become a member.