Edette Gagne describes the music her British Columbia Boys' Choir (BCBC) will sing at their Whistler concert as "new wine in old bottles."
"There's a little bit of everything. The show is called 'Christmas Magic' and that really encapsulates a few different levels of the programming: one is the magic and beauty of the voice," says Gagne, who has conducted the 32 members of the International Touring Choir, which is coming to Whistler, for the last six years.
The boys will sing choral works by classical composers Henry Purcell and Joseph Haydn, as well as some contemporary pieces.
"We have a Latin piece about light and some fun takes on familiar songs. We have the tenors and basses sing a 'We Three Kings' that is actually based on (boys' band) Take 5. There's a few little musical surprises like that," Gagne says.
"The favourite part of our Christmas show is that the audience joins us for some carolling."
In the run-up to Whistler, the choir has been ramping up their appearances, with demand being high as the choir enters its 45th season. Performances last week alone included the Shadbolt Centre in Burnaby, the CBC Food Bank drive, Oakridge Mall in Vancouver, and the choir's major seasonal concert at St. John Shaughnessy Anglican Church, also in Vancouver.
"This is the highest number of Christmas performances we've done since I was hired," Gagne says. "We have our Whistler show on Friday and prior to this round of concerts they did a full day of school tours, where they did four performances. It's been an amazing Christmas season for our young men.
"The nice thing about having two conductors (Tony Araujo is Gagne's counterpart) is that we share the work. But the boys have to be there every time. It's an immense level of dedication."
That dedication starts early. The BCBC training group is aged seven to 11 and spends several years practicing and learning before it goes on to the International Touring Choir.
"This is their chance to get a taste of choral singing; I call them my Olympic athletes in training," says Gagne. "The idea is that I train them to get ready for the touring choir, that's the hope, that most will move forward into the touring choir and move on."
Overall, there are 50 boys in three BCBC groups: the training group, the town choir in Vancouver, and another choir on Vancouver Island based in Nanaimo. The International Touring Choir is composed of singers from the last two groups.
The whole BCBC team likes to perform in Whistler, Gagne says.
"I love the Whistler show. I got to conduct the last show a couple of years ago, too. I love it because, and I'm not trying to be nice about this, the Whistler audience is by far the best sing-along audience. It's a very savvy audience and chorally educated audience because there is so much choral stuff going on in Whistler," she adds.
"We end up with an audience that is singing in four-part harmony. Last time, we looked at each other and wanted the Whistler audience to come to all our shows."
One singer, no longer with the choir, was a Whistler lad who'd make the long trip to practices.
"Our young men are very motivated to sing. They love it. They come from all over the greater mainland area, for a few years we had one young man coming from Whistler. His mom said it was still better than being a hockey mom," Gagne laughs.
"And that's the thing. They grow up. It breaks my heart but they grow up and get on with the rest of their lives."
For the first time in its 45 years, the choir will be making a cross-Canada tour to celebrate its anniversary. It plans to perform in every province over the period of one month, starting in June 2014. And it wants to be in Ottawa on Canada Day.
"Normally, we alternate between regional and international tours. Next year's plans are exciting and the longest tour in quite some time," says Gagne. "We've done regions, Vancouver Island, Northern B.C., mid-west states but never something that has been across the country.
"We've got a big campaign going to see if we can get the boys on Parliament Hill on Canada Day singing. This is our big hope. We're asking people to fill in pre-created postcards and we will have those with us at Millennium Place. All folks have to do is put a little message and add their name and address."
The British Columbia Boys' Choir performs at Millennium Place on Friday, Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. General admission is $26.50, Whistler Arts Council members pay $22.50, seniors and students are $24.50 and children under 12 are $12.50.
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