For some, singing weaves the fabric of life.
This is particularly true for members of Shuswap Singers, a group of intrepid vocalists, some of whom have been around for 50 years.
As they celebrate the 50th anniversary of the group that has given so much over the years, founding members Tom Brighouse, Clara Anderson and Bert Revel have many happy memories.
At age 24, Revel was one of 78 teachers in the region and directed the choir at St. John’s Anglican Church.
“Tom came to Canada in 1956 and was very involved with music at Jackson, and he decided he’d like to start a night school choir,” laughs Revel, noting the choir which met in the band room of J.L. Jackson School was non-religious and for all ages. “Tom was also Anglican and said ‘you’d better come to that.’”
In the early sixties, Brighouse had been asked to teach a music class for the night school program.
“The class on ‘learning how to read choral music’ was duly advertised, but obviously not sufficiently,” says Brighouse. “Only one person, a soprano, turned up on the appointed evening and said ‘I suppose it’s off, then.’”
“No, no,” responded Tom. “Let me phone all those who have musical voices known to me and see if we can salvage something from this inauspicious start.”
While 15 singers were willing to attend the second evening get-together, only half of the adults were willing to pay the dues to be night school students. The other half just turned up.
“At first we learned just enough to take a section of the program for community events,” he says. “Later we graduated to having our own concerts.”
Known initially as the Salmon Arm Choral Society, the name was changed to reflect the fact that people were joining in from all around the Shuswap – thus the Shuswap Singers.
In Brighouse’s Grade 8 class at the start, Anderson says she joined the evening program because it was another opportunity to sing.
“Just as long as we got to sing, that’s all I cared about,” she laughs. “It was wonderful, it was someone who loved it so much and was so enthusiastic and a great mentor. I was in his choir class and was so amazed about how he got everyone singing.”
The first concert was held in 1962 and Revel remembers one of the first songs the group performed was Haydn’s The Heavens are Telling. Another early number was I Hear a Voice A- Praying that the group performed at the Kelowna Music Festival.
“It will be on the slate for the concert,” says Revel, noting Shuswap Singers are going to celebrate their 50th anniversary with a concert May 12 and 13.
Looking back over the 50 years, Revel and Anderson say songs will be chosen from each decade the group has been together.
When Shuswap Singers first performed there was anywhere from 10 to 20 regular participants. Now there are between 45 and 50 depending on who shows up, some over 80 years of age.
Anderson, Revel and Brighouse are the last founding members and all are delighted that members span the ages, with a breath of fresh air arriving in the form of six young members of the Shuswap Children’s Honour Choir.
“They are very good because they’ve had the training from (Shuswap Singers director) Kate McKie,” says an enthusiastic Anderson. “They read music really well and their voices are young and fresh.”
“And exciting, they’ve revived the enthusiasm in the choir, and if we get a few more the choir will go on,” adds Revel, looking ahead. “It’s important that it does. Even though we may not be able to sing all these many more years, it needs to go on.”
But if their enthusiasm and obvious love of singing are an indication, Anderson and Revel are nowhere near ready to retire their voices.
“Even today, if it’s Thursday night, it’s choir,” says Anderson who has continued to sing since her first Grade 8 encounter with Brighouse. “I have enjoyed it all these years, it has been a joy for me, and it certainly helped bring me out of shyness, when I made the big leap from Carlin School to town.”
Anderson was one of five students Brighouse invited to meet at noon and sing at events, something she did through the end of Grade 12.
To Revel, who has been the group’s librarian for some 25 years, Thursday night rehearsal was a must-do.
“It’s always been my night out. When I married I thought it was important to keep my own personal identity,” he says. “Elizabeth had her activities and I was very adamant that I had personal time to feed my soul.”
Rehearsals for the May concert that will be given to celebrate 50 years of great singing in Salmon Arm are well underway.