Community choir embraces what makes Yukon special

This weekend's concert by the Whitehorse Community Choir is more than a year in the making. That's how long it takes to wrangle poets, lyricists and renowned composers to create original pieces of music for you.

This weekend’s concert by the Whitehorse Community Choir is more than a year in the making.

That’s how long it takes to wrangle poets, lyricists and renowned composers to create original pieces of music for you.

The Last Horizon: A Yukon Tribute runs this Friday and Saturday at the Yukon Arts Centre.

Instead of only using established songs, conductor Barbara Chamberlin said she wanted a chance to show off all the talent that there is in choral music, both in the Yukon and across the country.

“When you work with something, you start admiring different people, for instance arrangers and composers from the choral world,” she said.

“You start admiring their work and you keep thinking, what would that be like if our choir had some songs written for it?”

The show features 14 new pieces and six that are already part of the choir’s repertoire. Two are based on Robert Service poems.

Some touch on familiar topics like the northern lights and Annie Lake Road. Another song is an experimental piece about the way the sound can change when it gets extra chilly outside.

The program features the work of recognizable Yukon names, including poets Clea Roberts, Joanna Lilley and Lex Widdis and musicians Grant Simpson, Sylvie Painchaud, Olivier De Columbel and Chamberlin herself.

But it also includes some well-known names inside the choral music world.

Stephen Chatman is currently a professor of composition at UBC. He is the first Canadian to have his work short-listed in the BBC Masterprize international competition. He’s won multiple Western Canadian Music Awards and Junos for his work.

For the Yukon show, he composed music for Joanna Lilley’s poem Night Vision.

Another well-known composer involved with the show is Stephen Hatfield, who Chamberlin calls “one of the premiere guys in not just Canada, but in North America or maybe the world.”

“If you do a piece by Stephen Hatfield it’s amazing. It’s going to be amazing, and it is amazing,” she said.

Hatfield composed a piece using Widdis’s poem The Northern Lights.

“Stephen Hatfield and Stephen Chatman, if you walked up to any choir in the world and say those names, they will know who they are, they’re that famous,” Chamberlin said.

“But they’re also really cool. We’ve done so many works by them, and it’s like, wow.”

The idea is for audiences to embrace the Yukon and all the talent that you can find here, she said.

“I hope that they come out with, ‘Wow, this is something we can own,’ and I hope they come out with a sense of, ‘Wow, these composers, including our local ones, do really great work.’”

The Whitehorse Community Choir has been around for decades. The large choir has about 65 members. There are also three other choirs, the all-female Persephones, the bass and tenor choir the Neptunes, and the chamber choir. All four groups will perform at this weekend’s show.

The show is being dedicated to Yukon artist Ted Harrison, who died earlier this year.

It helps to sing about something you know about, said John Robbins, who has been with the choir for the last 17 years.

“There’s things you identity with. Or, a big thing that comes back is memories of passed times or people or events. It kind of transports you when you sing, I find,” he said.

The choirs feature a range of singers from their early 20s to their late 70s.

“We enjoy it and we hope that people pick up on that enjoyment,” Robbins said.

Both Friday and Saturday’s concerts are at 8 p.m. at the Yukon Arts Centre.

Adult tickets are $25, seniors and students are $20 and child tickets are $15.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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