Reflections on Music in my Life

Growing up Catholic in Swift Current in the 50s, I was not exposed to a lot of choral music—except in church. That was more congregational singing, but occasionally we had a priest with an excellent voice. I remember one who would reverently perform “O Holy Night” every Christmas. Even as a youngster it would give me goosebumps. There was also something haunting about the Latin chants common at the time in our church.

My family couldn’t afford to pay for piano lessons, so it was the nuns who gave me a rudimentary musical education. I think I was in Grade 6 when my class performed “Bless This House” at the dedication ceremony for our brand new St Patrick Elementary School. As now, I had an alto voice, and as now, I so enjoyed performing the harmony part. It was such a moving piece, and I remember the words (to the 1st verse at least) to this day.

Shortly after that, our class (or perhaps several classes) travelled to Regina to perform in a mass choir. The bus ride alone was exciting, but to perform with a thousand other students from across the province was exhilarating, especially accompanied by a live student orchestra. The first thing we did as a group was rehearse “O Canada.” That set my spine tingling and I’ve never forgotten the feeling of so many voices making a beautiful communal sound. I still have the music for our feature number, the SATB version of “Hail to the Cause of Peace,” from “The Triumphal March from Aida” by Giuseppe Verdi, arranged for The Young Chorus and Orchestra by Rj Staples.

That experience in particular led to a lifelong interest in choral singing, nurtured in high school when we had such knowledgeable directors. Since those heady days, my music participation was mostly in the shower, at church, or around the campfire. But while living in Edmonton, I was introduced to a great amateur choir with a keen, kind and fun director (aren’t they all). A highlight there was taking part in the annual Remembrance Day evening service from the loft of the Winspear Centre. Such a beautiful venue; such acoustics!

When I decided to move back to Swift Current, I was assured that, “All those Saskatchewan towns have amazing directors. You’ll find one!” And sure enough, the Oratorio Choir and Marcia McLean were there for me. Thirteen years later, I’m still so grateful for the experience. Learning beautiful new pieces each Christmas (there’s always one that brings a tear to my eye), performing such varied and challenging works each spring, even getting to sing in a mass choir at Carnegie Hall. How great is all that!