Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jill Laforty retires from CBC radio

Long-time supporter of The Stairwell Carollers, Jill Laforty retires from CBC radio.

Jill has followed us for years and did a wonderful interview with us for our 30th anniversary in the stairwells at Ottawa U.

We will miss her. Hopefully we will see her as producer on her own projects in the near future.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

CHOIR HOW-TO -- Costume -- Part Two: Dressing the Choir, Gowns or Gownless Evening Straps?

Holly in costume at Rideau Hall, Feb 2001. My kind of choir gown.
I know what you're thinking -- costumes cost money. Who should pay for them?  Simply, I was determined to do costumes for nothing, asking the choir members to contribute or supply as much as they could give personally.

Yes, this is not how many choirs do it. Often they raise funds to pay for costumes or trips to Constantinople. Without sounding judgmental, I think this is selfish. The kind of music we do (primarily Christmas and Sacred) represents the kind of citizens we are. We want to give rather than take, so, diatribe over, the money was not coming out of the choir coffers if I had any say.

From the get-go, I refused to wear a "choir gown". (And they are bloody expensive!) I insisted our choir was different -- we weren't affiliated with any specific church and I did not want us to appear to be of a particular denomination over any other. I was also young enough to think I'd look like some "old lady" in a choir gown -- I admit I had some preconceptions about traditional choir attire.

I persisted, the choir resisted.

And, for a while I did wear a... choir gown.


A complete set donated to us by Keith's church choir -- they had upgraded and we benefited.
I grinned and wore it.
For a short time.
Only for Masses.

Funny that I have no photos of us in those gowns. Well, you can imagine, flowy, dusty rose polyester. Go ahead imagine. Now go scrub the inside of your eyes with a toothbrush.

Don't get me wrong, I was thankful when the other choir donated the twenty or so robes to us -- at first it seemed to be the easy solution. But, after much whining from myself, (and I am SUCH a whiner) we settled on black and white for singing Mass and for the occasional  Spring concert.. This was easy since individual singers supplied their own version of white shirt and black pants/long skirt.
The Stairwell Carollers carolling at St. Laurent Shopping Centre
Forced to be the bad guy -- I encouraged long sleeves, pressed seams, black socks and no running shoes.

Still, some wore black jeans (not black under lights!) or snow boots -- or black Adidas.

Or white tennis shoes.

Next Part 3

The Choir Costume series links :)

Choir Costume Part 1 - what NOT to wear?
Choir Costume Part 2 - Gowns or Gownless Evening Straps?
Choir Costume Part 3 - Girls in Tails
Choir Costume Part 4 - Period Wear -- Medieval/Renaissance to Victorian Era
Choir Costume Part 5 - Cloaks are all the Vogue
Choir Costume Part 6 - Spring Pastels to Basic Black

Seeking Singers for their 7th CD Stairwell Carollers, Audition Notice

July 24th, 2011

For Immediate Release

(Ottawa)Do you get a rush up your spine when singing a cappella, without any instruments accompanying you? Does the thought of donating to charities, or giving scholarships to young musicians bring inspiration to your spirit? Are you perhaps a singer with a pure sound who has hesitated auditioning for choirs because you’re not the greatest at sight-singing?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then the Stairwell Carollers WANT YOU!

We are an award-winning 25-member choir from the Ottawa-Gatineau region whose mission is to create the highest level of pure, a cappella singing, while giving back to the community through our charitable works.
In 2010, we placed 1st in the Ontario Music Festivals Association choral competition and second in the national finals! We are a registered charity ourselves, have donated over $43,000 to twenty local charities and provided just under $10,000 in scholarships to eleven talented students going on for music studies at Canadian universities.
During our 2011-12 season, we’ll be recording our 7th professionally-produced CD, and we’re looking for sopranos and basses to join us in this exciting project.

To arrange an audition, send an email to info@stairwellcarollers.com or phone (613) 746-2779. If you sing alto or tenor, please contact us too, as we may have auditions later in the year. 

We rehearse at St. Columba Anglican Church, 24 Sandridge Rd. (Manor Park). For more information, or to hear excerpts from our 6 previous CDs, visit www.stairwellcarollers.com.

- 30 -
By David Rain, Tenor

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

CHOIR HOW-TO -- Costume -- Part ONE: Dressing the Choir -- what NOT to wear?

The Stairwell Carollers first photo - 1977 - Ottawa U student newspaper
I've always been stubborn and a know-it-all. I know it -- ask anyone who knows me. My Mom used to call me Doctor Holly -- but that's another story -- one you won't read here because it has nothing to do with the Stairwell Carollers.
That's me, Holly
So, early on I decided what the choir would NOT wear -- rather dictatorial in retrospect, but I was too vain for my own good and refused to be seen in anything decided by someone else. I did have an awareness of the importance of the whole group's appearance and the impression costume could make. I wanted us to have a "Look" -- but what kind of look was not clear to any of us yet. Looking back at some of my own personal clothing choices, perhaps I should have given up some control. LOL.

Holly choosing to wear pink stretch pants and a yellow sweater
But no one resisted, thus -- I became Costumier for the Stairwell Carollers.

It didn't hurt that I loved doing costume for my Ottawa U. Theatre courses. I guess the choir deferred to my expertise, such as it was.

Early on we had had a few discussions about what to wear that resulted in random Christmas colour sweaters with scarves. More from a lack of funds, since we were all starving students.
At the Rideau Centre -- still random with scarves-- and still jeans -- weirdly I'm in a dress -- well, it WAS red:)
We went all out a year or two later and added little bells as accents.
I liked this look -- the opposite scarves and sweaters clicked.
Then the fun began when I wanted us all to wear the SAME sweaters -- what a nightmare! Sizes, the right style -- no store had ENOUGH of one or the other.

We made a group decision that the choir members would buy them, but we would keep the sweater if they left the choir. This worked for a while -- till the sweaters got old and the group got bigger.  We couldn't find the same sweaters, so, START AGAIN!

For a while we had these green sweaters I'd like to forget. Two years ago I finally cleaned out my basement and donated them to the Salvation army.

Next Part 2

The Choir Costume series links :)

Choir Costume Part 1 - what NOT to wear?
Choir Costume Part 2 - Gowns or Gownless Evening Straps?
Choir Costume Part 3 - Girls in Tails
Choir Costume Part 4 - Period Wear -- Medieval/Renaissance to Victorian Era
Choir Costume Part 5 - Cloaks are all the Vogue
Choir Costume Part 6 - Spring Pastels to Basic Black

May you sing like no one is listening

Pete found this cutie on YouTube and emailed it to the choir with the subject  line -- "we need to book this guy for an audition."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Jubilate Deo by Orlande de Lassus - The Stairwell Carollers, Ottawa.

Stained Glass at St Charles church, Ottawa

Ottawa choir, The Stairwell Carollers, perform "Jubilate Deo" by Orlande de Lassus (also Orlandus Lassus, Orlando di Lasso, Roland de Lassus, or Roland Delattre) (1532 -- 1594). He was a Franco-Flemish composer of the late Renaissance. St-Charles Church, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, June 8th, 2001.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Condolences to long-time Stairweller, Denyse, on the loss of her beloved sister, Madeleine


We were very sad to hear that Denyse Mageau's sister, Madeleine Bellefeuille (née Mageau), was not well and sadly, yesterday she lost her battle to stay with us. The whole choir is thinking about you today, Denyse. We all love you.

Friends are invited to visit at the St.Laurent Chapel of Hulse, Playfair & McGarry, 1200 Ogilvie Road at Aviation Parkway on Saturday, July 16, 2011 from 2 p.m. until Service in the Chapel at 4 p.m.The full notice is here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

This kid went through many great challenges

Denyse sent this to me and I thought it was so wonderful, I would post it.
Think Susan Boyle, but in Korea -- don't worry there are subtitles.

Friday, July 8, 2011

NOTEable Mention -- our Director, Pierre Massie, Master Maestro, Master Teacher

The Stairwell Carollers in 1977 - Ottawa University students
Pierre (Pete) Massie founded the " Stairwell Carollers " in 1977 and (in his own words) has had the honour and privilege of directing the group ever since.

Hailing from the frozen northern town of Timmins, Ontario, Pierre won first place in the local Kiwanis music festival in the vocal category when he was only 9.
Pierre Massie studied all band instruments for his music degree, including violin.
Pete in 1976 -- 2nd year Ottawa University -- learning violin

Pierre began his University career at Ottawa University in 1975, with a Major in Saxophone and a Minor in Voice. Under the expert guidance of his voice teacher, Gloria Richard, he received his Bachelor of Music and his Bachelor of Education in 1980. He recalls how he would often tease Angela Hewitt by banging on the piano or on a drum kit in a nearby cubicle. He achieved a Grade 6 Conservatory equivalence on all brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments, as well as violin.

After graduation in 1980, Pete had a 3-year  teaching stint back in his hometown of Timmins. While teaching full-time he sang lead for his successful top 40 rock cover band, LEGACY, and had the occasion to give new-comer Shania Twain vocal tips. Pete returned in 1984 to our Nations Capital and has made Ottawa his home ever since.
In 1991, he co-authored one of the few French music theory manuals in publication here in Canada, commissioned by the Ministry of Education: Concepts musicaux I / Pierre Massie, Richard Ranger ; Denis Proulx, coordination.

In 1995, Michel Benac of SWING fame, joined the group. Consequently, Pierre joined Michel's a cappella group, SAIJ (Saturday Afternoon In July). SAIJ went on to win the prix Trille Or 2003 for best new group.
Pierre in SAIJ - a cappella group, led by Michel Benac, of LGS - Le Group Swing
SAIJ -- Michel Benac on left next to Pierre

Several music composition awards are to his credit, including First Place for his original composition "I Saw a Swete Semly Syght" in the Toronto Amadeus Choir's International Christmas Song Competition. His lovely carol premiered Dec. 5, 1999 at the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto and was broadcast nationally on CBC radio on Christmas day. Again in 2007, Pierre took first place in the same competition for "Eya, eya, gaudeamus". The piece was performed in Toronto by the Amadeus Choir on Friday, December 14, at the Yorkminster Park Baptist Church. Again this year, Pierre won honourable mention in the Amadeus competition for his composition "Laudemus cum armonia".
Pierre has been a music teacher in the Ottawa/Carleton School Board since 1987. When he taught at Osgoode Township High School in Metcalfe, he founded a Stomp - inspired percussion group he dubbed OFFBEAT. On a trip to New York, he met with the cast of STOMP who gave him invaluable advice about broom upkeep and encouragement for OFFBEAT's continued success.

Over his 13 years at Osgoode, he directed a complex musical variety show each spring, showcasing the huge musical talent in the tiny 700-student school.  Spectacular musical numbers from CATS, The PHANTOM of the OPERA, Les MISERABLES and others were featured. The high school had to hold two performances over two nights to accommodate the over 1500 audience members in attendance.Not an easy feat considering the fact that there was no auditorium and the school had to give up a main gym for a week in preparation. The show became a major event at the school and the phys ed teachers willingly took classes outside and sometimes across the street to the community centre to accommodate the extravaganza.

Pierre Massie, in choir cloak, directs the Stairwell Carollers from the tenor section

As the only one capable to teach the group, Pierre took OFFBEAT with him to his current position as Head of Fine Arts at Glebe Collegiate High School. OFFBEAT  is now a credited Music percussion course there. OFFBEAT wins Gold at every Music festival they enter, and are usually the only ones in their category. To perform in Festival, the pieces had to have a score, and Pierre developed his own transcription language for basketballs, brooms, garbage cans and plastic. For those who don't know, the festivals are not competitive and the Gold ranking is only conferred on a group that has very high marks from the adjudicators.

For two years, Pete was Director of the Osgoode Arts Council, where he learned invaluable information about arts organizations and community responsibilities.

Meanwhile, the choir was improving -- and through specific fund-raising, was able to produce the first CD, Qui Creavit Celum. Pierre then launched our website, www.stairwellcarollers.com  , which he designed from the ground up, learning how to heft HTML like a pro.
Pierre composes at his Mac
Composer, Pierre Massie
Often over summer vacation Pete is taken by the composition muse and disappears to our back porch for hours at a time. Inspiration can be a storm, a mourning dove or  just  the sound of the wind in the trees.

I'm just tagging along, enjoying the ride.

Monday, July 4, 2011

BEHIND THE SONG -- Volunteerism -- the Heart of the Stairwell Carollers

 A choir like The Stairwell Carollers would get very little done without the spirit of volunteerism.  Joining the Stairwell Carollers is a commitment not only to singing -- both rehearsing and performing --  but a commitment to sharing the tasks inherent to the success of such a group.  One of our mandates is to raise money for local charities.  Therefore we have to try to save as much money as possible by using talents and resources within the group.
René and Simon hoisting the lights

I intend to write posts highlighting individuals in the choir who deserve recognition for their contributions in volunteering their time above and beyond the job of chorister.  However, this is not a competition.  No judgment is intended of how much time a person is able to volunteer or not.  The spirit of volunteering is that you do it freely, with no thought for personal gain or aggrandizement.  There are so many reasons to volunteer -- The betterment of the group, the enrichment of the experience, self-satisfaction, morale boosting -- I could go on and on.  But as usual, I've probably said too much.

Michèle Voyer busy selling
Pete and Holly

My husband,Pete, has said on a number of occasions, that without the committees, without all the help of the volunteers, he would not have the energy to continue the huge job of directing the choir.

We have, within the Stairwell Carollers, many generous individuals who give of their time and share their expertise by volunteering to do tasks that are necessary, but not necessarily fun.

Susan on the run with the money
Susan has volunteered to do the Brochure and keeps it up to date with new info and photos.

Andrea Walton, Soprano and choir secretary

Pierre puts together all the programs on his computer.When they are ready, Andrea Walton does all the copying and assembling of packages.

Susan's daughter and Michèle
Volunteers in the choir help with folding the programs and brochures. Most members help to sell CDs and cookbooks at  Xmas at their workplaces, but Susan, her daughter, and Rene's lovely wife, Michèle, usually manage sales at our concerts and other venues.

There are many other tasks that choir members (and their families) do for the choir -- I have mentioned only a few here. I will try to thank everyone eventually -- and at the same time throw some illumination on the work BEHIND THE SONG.

Holly ;)

Friday, July 1, 2011

CHOIR HOW - TO --- Choosing a Scholarship Winner -- not an easy task!

Pete follows the score as we listen to the applicant's recording

It all started with our Committee chairman, Diane, providing each of us with a binder with the candidates' applications and info, as well as a CD with recordings of their performances. 

Assessment sheets were also provided -- these were generated by Diane and Pierre. We based our evaluation on criteria such as musicianship, difficulty of pieces chosen, a personal essay the candidate was asked to write about their love of music , how much work they did in their community in relation to their music and, of course, how beautiful their voice or instrument sounded. We spent the afternoon munching on snacks, listening to the candidates recordings and reading their submitted essays and recommendation letters.

Dahlia Al-Khafajy and Nicolas Galuban are The 2011  Stairwell Caroller  Scholarship winners
This years decision was delightfully difficult since two of the candidates were so excellent, we decided to award two Scholarships of $1,000 each instead of just one.
Nicolas Galuban, Pierre Massie and Dahlia Al-Khafajy
After the decision was made, we tucked into a potluck dinner. Yum. Amazing how hungry decision-making can make one!

We all gave notes to Diane about this years binder and she now has the daunting task of tweaking all the forms to keep them precise and relevant to choosing our next year's winner.

All Stairwell Carollers Scholarship winners can be seen here .

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