Amidst a tough and sad year, a Halifax choir creates a concert of communal lament

Members of the Halifax Camerata Singers choir pose in this undated handout photo. In a year of pandemic, mass murder and military tragedies, a choir on Canada's East Coast has created a concert that gives singers, a poet and their online audience an outlet for communal lament. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Michael James *MANDATORY CREDIT*

HALIFAX - In a year of pandemic, mass murder and military tragedies, a choir on Canada's East Coast has created a concert that gives singers, a poet and their online audience an outlet for communal lament.

The 27-member Halifax Camerata Singers choir has prepared a remembrance-themed live concert before Remembrance Day each year for over a decade.

But this year the group's focus includes the particularly tragic and poignant events that gripped Nova Scotia in 2020.

The 35-minute, emotional blend of readings and choral music titled "Voice of Remembrance" will be posted online Tuesday, after two recording sessions last month at St. Andrew's United Church in Halifax.

Jeff Joudrey, artistic director, said in an interview on Saturday the concert recalls both the wider losses of world wars and the particular losses of 2020.

"Once you allow yourself to grieve, then the healing can begin," he said.

The initial music honours the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and civilians killed in the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

The concert then shifts into more recent troubles, including the killings of 22 people, including the mother of an unborn baby, by a mass murderer who rampaged through the province in a replica police vehicle.

The performance also recalls the deaths of six Halifax-based members of the Canadian Forces who died in a Cyclone helicopter crash off the coast of Greece in April 2020, and the death of Capt. Jenn Casey, originally of Halifax, who died in a Snowbirds acrobatic aircraft accident in May.

The concluding pieces are dedicated to all who have died at home, in hospital, or in long-term care homes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the 53 who died in the Northwood care facility in Halifax.

The concert ends with the haunting and hopeful "O Love," by American composer Elaine Hagenberg, which includes the lines "O love/that will not let me go/O love, I rest my weary soul in thee."

"The choir just gets it," said Joudrey.

"The choir just understands the message that this piece sings and it seemed really, really appropriate to end the concert with this."

The performance also includes readings that evoke memories of loss.

Navy Lt. Simon Hardman, a Royal Canadian Navy officer and tenor in the ensemble, recorded the poem "Crimson Stain" while standing in nearby Point Pleasant Park next to the sailors' memorial.

The traditional "In Flanders Fields" is sung in the church by Christine Donkin.

The second poem, "Because We Love, We Cry," is read by Sheree Fitch, a Nova Scotia poet who composed it the day after the mass shooting.

Amanda Zadeh, a soprano in the choir and a registered nurse, reads an excerpt from the late French writer Albert Camus, as she stands in front of a hospital wearing her protective clothing.

Joudrey said the performance has brought the singers back together after they endured months of cancelled performances.

Rehearsals in COVID-19 times are dramatically different, as the choristers wear masks designed by Ottawa-based singer and choir director Joan Fearnley that provide added space for singing.

Each person is socially distanced across the stage, and the practices occurred in two groups.

"They had to really work to hear each other well," said Joudrey.

"But they're getting used to it and now when you hear the choir with their masks on, you'd be hard pressed to tell they're on."

The concert features the playing of "For the Fallen" by trumpet player Curtis Dietz, several piano performances by Lynette Wahlstrom, and solos by sopranos Meg Currie and Amanda Zadeh.

Joudrey said he's hoping the concert reaches an audience who have "passed through such a storm of tragedies in Nova Scotia, followed by the pandemic's isolation."

"There's a huge hunger for something to make sense and what I hope is that when people hear this little concert we've recorded it brings some level of solace or comfort or reflection," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2020.

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