Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Stairwell Interviews -- Denyse Mageau, Soprano -- Part ONE -- To Sing...

Before we had a name -- Denyse is front row second from the right
                   The Stairwell Interviews -- Denyse Mageau, a Stairweller from the start.

"I did not choose to sing. My Mom made me do it. I sang in her choir at four years old and never stopped."

Lucky for us, as Denyse's pure, clear soprano has been key to the Stairwell sound.
"Pete had just started to sing in the stairwells of the Ottawa University residences and he asked me to join. I remember going up the small hill at the end of Cummings bridge for my first practice at Pierre’s apartment on Rideau Street."

"He handed me the repertoire and I was hooked. We were also members of the U of O choir, and later joined L'ensemble Vocale Pierre Chartrand."  

U of O choir 1976. Denyse is 5th row, 5th from the left. Pete is 1st row, 3rd from the left.

 I sang on a moving bus, on Parliament Hill, inside the Parliament Buildings, in pouring rain, in freezing drizzle, at an old age home, in a hospital corridor, at a funeral and with a small quartet at a wedding. I even did some lip syncing during a concert, swallowing a cough in my throat. Pete never noticed.

I sang live on radio, on TV, a TV special and live TV and I sing on YouTube.
I sang for a packed house, and once for an audience of less than five people. The president of the poets’ group who booked us had forgotten to publicize the concert.  He and my sister were the only audience. We sang requests.

Rideau centre mall Denyse is 3rd from the right
I sang in a mall, while walking, beside Santa, alongside a “soldier” of the Salvation Army. I sang in fast-food establishments and bars where the choir sang “Happy Birthday” to random strangers.

I sang in a convent for Les Filles de la Sagesse . It is a convalescent home for nuns. The acoustics were wonderful in the chapel and they would like to hear us again.  

I sang while tears ran down my face - sometimes I get choked up with the beauty of the music.  

I sang in a quartet -- a Stairwell carollers’ quartet, that is.

I also sang at Governor General Adrianne Clarkson’s old fashioned skating party. A great moment."
Singing at Rideau hall

Another stairwell at a house party
Of course, Denyse has  sung in many Stairwells.

She says that her most interesting memories are not about caroling, but about special concerts or situations:

"In the early years, we sang in a wider range of styles

Alongside the Renaissance pieces, we tried a few in a folkloric style, adapted by Jean-François Sénard, and a Bach variation from the Swingle singers. Pierre has always enjoyed pushing us to our limits. Thus, a few times, Poulenc’s Salve Regina was part of our Spring repertoire."
1988 -- Parliament Hill Xmas tree lighting ceremony

"In those days, we did not rest during the summer. 

Pierre would give us rhythm and sight reading exercises for July and August. 

We did not have Spring concerts yet -- there were performances at Retirement homes, in the NAC lobby and at the Tulip Festival."

"When I retired, I offered to coordinate the choir’s events. I suggested we have a steering committee.

If I remember well, the first members were Andrea Walton, John Brett and Holly Massie. The next day Pete gave me $1,000 that we had accumulated from honorariums. First thing I did was open a Stairwell Carollers bank account. Then, nearly 10 years later, I got the choir registered -- with some help from Andrea who has always been our devoted secretary."
Denyse's Stairwell Story PART 2 -- SACRED MUSIC -- coming soon.

You can hear  Denyse's voice on our new CD, Cantate Domino.   
                               Listen to excerpts of  CANTATE DOMINO - a selection of Renaissance Sacred choral pieces.

Order Cantate Domino

Cantate Domino is dedicated to the memory of Paul Churchill, Tenor, whose voice and heart will be forever remembered.

If you live in the Ottawa area, you can purchase our CDs directly from choir members. 

You can also buy them at Ottawa area stores, online, or at our live concerts.


  1. Thank you for linking up. This is so interesting to read about.

    1. Thanks for reading! Denyse has had a fascinating life!
      More to come -- part 2 will be up soon!


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