Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Stairwell Carollers at 40 - Anniversary Concert Friday!

The Stairwell Carollers, photo credit Iryna Zamchevska (OCISO)
Part 1
A Choir like no Other - singing in a humanitarian key
Over the years, you may have bumped into them around town: in pubs, malls, retirement homes, food banks, carolling on a bus, singing for a parking lot attendant, strolling along the Sparks Street Mall or wassailing live in Ottawa's Byward Market.
Stairwell Carollers carolling in the Byward Market
They are a true “community choir” and no community is too small for them. The Carollers have braved ice storms and blizzards. They've never missing a performance in towns and villages scattered throughout the Ottawa Valley: in Stittsville, Carp, Pakenham, Arnprior, Almonte, Carleton Place, Smiths Falls, Merrickville, Osgoode, Cumberland, Vankleek Hill and Alexandria. Proudly bilingual, they’ve sung right across the Outaouais region too: Shawville, Gatineau, Chelsea, Ripon, Chénéville and Fassett.
The Men of the Stairwell Carollers in Almonte
And yet, from humble beginnings (they were founded by Director Pierre Massie in the stairwells of Ottawa U in 1977) they have grown to become one of Ottawa’s top choirs, twice placing first in the Ontario Music Festivals Association provincial competition (2010 and 2013).
OMFA First Place in Ontario - Second in Canada
They have been hired to carol at Rideau Hall, at dozens of churches around Ottawa, and this summer were invited to sing at a special Music and Beyond event at the National Gallery. CTV has profiled the choir on Regional Contact many times and the Carollers were recently featured on the popular CBC Ottawa Morning radio show.
The Stairwell Carollers
Once Ottawa’s best kept secret, the Stairwell Carollers are perhaps one of the most unique choirs in Canada.
They’re a choir quite unlike any other. No pianos, no instruments of any kind to help with tuning, not even in rehearsals – they’re 100% a cappella, and proudly so. You might ask then how the Carollers know what notes to sing at the beginning of songs.
Pierre gets the note with his tuning fork - photo credit Iryna Zamchevska (OCISO)
The answer can be found in the small dent on the side of Pierre Massie’s head. For at the start of each Stairwell Caroller song, Pierre strikes his tiny tuning fork against it. He then listens to the “A” that vibrates next to his ear, and quickly calculates in his mind where the “Do” for a particular song is located, and then he sings the choir their notes – Do mi so – and off they go!
Pierre Massie directs the Stairwell Carollers from the tenor section
To add to their uniqueness, though they number close to thirty singers, there is no one who conducts this choir from out front. Pierre takes his place in the middle of the tenor section and leads the choir while singing along. Choir members learn to follow subtle gestures that he gives them with his music folder, his eye brows, his ears, even the back of his head for those who are behind him!

It sounds next to impossible to bring this off with such a large group, and yet, Pierre drills the choir so thoroughly, that the Carollers have developed a “tight knit” sound that belies their numbers. Online research has sought out in vain another choir of this size that does not have a conductor standing in front of them. The Stairwell Carollers may well be the most unique choir in the whole world in this regard.
A concert not to be missed! 
Come hear the Stairwell Carollers sing “A Canadian Christmas” at Knox Presbyterian Church, 120 Lisgar Street, 7:30pm on December 15th.

The Stairwell Carollers will present a special 40th anniversary donation of $3,000 to the Shepherds of Good Hope on the 15th - a result of their first ever “Sponsor a Song” fundraising campaign.
Tickets are $20 at the door,; 
The Leading Note, 370 Elgin St; 
Compact Music, 206 & 785 ½ Bank St locations; 
Books on Beechwood, 35 Beechwood Ave.
Hope to see you at Knox Presbyterian on the 15th!

David Rain has been taking his musical cues from the back of Pierre Massie’s head for the past 25 years with the Stairwell Carollers.

Some photos credit Iryna Zamchevska (OCISO) - Thank you!

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You can also email your questions to me - info (at) stairwellcarollers (dot) com.
Holly :)

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