Grateful chorus Winnipeg choirs embracing holiday season of song after long silence

Winnipeg’s choral groups will sing “Hallelujah” this month after three years of silent nights.

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Winnipeg’s choral groups will sing “Hallelujah” this month after three years of silent nights.

Concert preview

Lessons and Carols: A Canadian Christmas
The Winnipeg Singers
● Crescent Arts Centre, 525 Wardlaw Ave.
● Sunday, 3 p.m.
● Tickets: Adults $35, Seniors $30, 30 and under $20 at winnipegsingers.com
Christmas with the Phil
The Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, with the Winnipeg Boys Choir and the Alumni Choir
● St. Boniface Cathedral
● Dec. 11, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
● Tickets: Adults $40, Seniors $30, 30 and under $20 at thephil.ca

Groups such as the Winnipeg Singers, the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, the Winnipeg Boys Choir and others across the city have been silenced by the COVID-19 pandemic since their last Christmas performances in the winter of 2019.

The hush ends Sunday afternoon at the Crescent Arts Centre (525 Wardlaw Ave.) when the Winnipeg Singers present Lessons and Carols: A Canadian Christmas, which includes new choral works by Canadian composers such as Andrew Balfour, Mark Sirett, Steven Chatman and Dan Wiebe, as well as narrated essays by Gimli music researcher Muriel Smith that will link the story of Jesus Christ’s birth with contemporary issues such as diversity and equality.

The Singers got a jump on the season a week ago when they performed Lessons and Carols in Kelowna, B.C. They found they were as missed by a sold-out audience yearning to hear their voices as they were excited about being onstage again.

“Going to Kelowna and being able to sing, it makes you realize how much you’ve been missing it,” says Pat Wray, the Winnipeg Singers’ executive director and an alto vocalist in the group.

“The biggest impression you get is that a lot of it is precious, precise and beautiful music… It really shows off the singers, in what we probably do best, unaccompanied, beautiful blends. It’ll definitely get people in the Christmas spirit.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Yuri Klaz, who conducts the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir and the Winnipeg Singers, has been leading concerts for 45 years.

Yuri Klaz, who has been the Winnipeg Singers’ artistic director and conductor since 2003, is looking forward to performing the new works, as well as some classic carols, before a hometown crowd again.

“This is my life and my occupation for 45 years — I started my first concert when I was 16 years old; it’s hard to believe, but it’s true — and we’re finally getting back to regular performances and it’s absolutely exciting to get back on stage.”

It will be the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir’s turn to sing and celebrate on Dec. 11 at the St. Boniface Cathedral (180 Ave. de la Cathedrale). Their two performances of Christmas carols will also mark the choir’s 100th anniversary.

It debuted Dec. 11, 1922, and a century later, the philharmonic, led by Klaz, who has served as its conductor since 2000, will welcome members of its alumni and the Winnipeg Boys Choir to join in the celebration, with about 100 singers uniting to provide comfort and joy, highlighted by a performance of the Hallelujah Chorus.

“It’s my 23rd season with the Winnipeg Philharmonic, almost a quarter of the history of the choir. I can’t imagine it,” Klaz says.

While many arts groups have celebrated a return to performing in 2022, choral groups such as the Winnipeg Singers, the philharmonic choir and the Canzona choir, which will team up with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra on a performance of Handel’s Messiah on Dec. 17 at the Centennial Concert Hall, have been hardest hit, owing to the way COVID-19 is transmitted through the air we breathe.

Singing was one of the first activities public-health officials ruled out in 2020, especially after two rehearsals by a choir in Seattle in March 2020 — the second attended by 61 people — led to two deaths and 53 choir members falling ill.

“It’s not an easy time, because some choirs still sing wearing masks, and certainly, it’s a very heroic effort to sing in masks. Masks help, and masks don’t,” Klaz says. “Choral singing was the first to shut down and we’re the last to come back.”

SUPPLIED

The Winnipeg Singers perform under the artistic direction of Yuri Klaz.

The Winnipeg Singers have rehearsed in masks, wear them backstage and try to stay physically distant, but most of them performed without masks in Kelowna.

Sunday’s concert will be without an intermission to keep audience members from milling together.

“I think it’s going to affect choirs’ work for quite a while,” Wray says. “We’re living under the fear that everyone’s going to get sick and you’re going to be the last one in your section left.”

Ticket sales for concerts, plays and other live performances haven’t been as strong in 2022 when compared with shows prior to the pandemic, but Wray says the Singers’ Sunday show holds promise for 2023 and beyond.

“We’re doing more and more ticket sales online and I’ve seen a lot of tickets sold on our website,” she says, adding an online recording of the concert will go on sale at winnipegsingers.com about a week after Sunday’s show.

“Winnipeg’s a pretty much walk-up-and-buy-at-the-door crowd so we don’t usually pre-sell that kind of numbers.”

Alan.Small@winnipegfreepress.com

Twitter: @AlanDSmall

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Alan Small

Alan Small
Reporter

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

Making a list, checking it twice

There’s no shortage of concerts and other events that celebrate the Christmas season. Here are some of the highlights:
• Stories, Songs and Santa Causes (tonight, 6:15 p.m. at My Church Winnipeg, 955 Wilkes Ave.) brings Tom Jackson, the actor, singer and philanthropist, back to Winnipeg for sing-along tunes, Christmas music, storytelling and his famous rendition of Huron Carole. Proceeds go to Harvest Manitoba. Tickets are $38.15 at eventbrite.ca.
• The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra offers three seasonal performances in December. Sunday brings A Flicker of Night on a Winter Night, which is part of the WSO’s Kids Concert series; the WSO are among the guests for A Rocky Mountain High Christmas on Dec. 8 that celebrates the songs of John Denver; and Elroy Friesen conducts the WSO and the Canzona choir for Handel’s Messiah on Dec. 17. Tickets for all shows at wso.ca.
• The Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra presents music from the animated TV classic The Grinch that Stole Christmas, Dec. 8 and two performances on Dec. 15 at the West End Cultural Centre. Tickets are $42 or $20 for students under 30 at winnipegjazzorchestra.com.
• Another animated TV favourite, A Charlie Brown Christmas, gets the musical treatment as part of A Charlie Brown Double Bill at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People. The show, which also includes You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, runs until Dec. 23. Tickets are $25, $22 for youths, at mtyp.ca.
• One of the toughest tickets every year is for the JP Hoe Hoe Hoe Holiday Show, which takes place Dec. 10. at the Burton Cummings Theatre. You’ll need a Christmas miracle to get a ticket, though. The show is sold out.

JP Hoe hosts his annual JP Hoe Hoe Hoe Holiday show on Saturday. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press

• Holiday Dreams, Dec. 10 at the Canada Life Centre, is billed as a spectacular holiday Cirque, featuring acrobats, daredevils, holograms and lasers. Tickets are $82.25-$92.50 at ticketmaster.ca.
• The Color, the two-time Juno-winning contemporary Christian pop group from Manitoba, performs Dec. 11 at the Westwood Community Church (401 Westwood Dr.). Tickets are $11.62 at eventbrite.ca.
• The Barenaked Ladies’ Hometown Holidays Tour stops at the Burton Cummings Theatre Dec. 12 for Christmas carols and the Toronto pop band’s hits. Tickets range from $64.25 to $76, but there are VIP packages that sell for up to $267.48 each at ticketmaster.ca.
• A Season of Miracles brings popera group the Tenors to the Club Regent Event Centre Dec. 13. Two new tenors, Mark Masri and Alberto Urso, join longtime members Clifton Murray and Victor Micallef on stage. Tickets are $74.88-$101.88 at ticketmaster.ca.
• Amero Little Christmas sees Winnipeg singer-songwriter Don Amero offering his annual variety show filled with stories and music Dec. 17 at the Burton Cummings Theatre. Tickets are $40.50-$51.75 at ticketmaster.ca.

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