MUSIC: A rare Surrey concert date for Elektra Women’s Choir, co-founded by current Guildford resident in 1987

Performance on Sunday afternoon (Nov. 27) at South Surrey's Good Shepherd Church

Morna Edmundson

SURREY — Unlike some cultures or some generations, we in 21st-century Canada are hard-pressed to come up with a tune everyone knows – “Happy Birthday” and the national anthem being the notable exceptions.

So says Morna Edmundson, artistic director of Elektra Women’s Choir, who elaborates on the subject in a “listener’s guide” posted to the choir’s website.

“But Christmas is different,” she notes. “Choral musicians have a rare opportunity to connect to audiences through the traditional music of the season. It’s a natural bridge we only have once a year. Many of the melodies we sing at this time of year are familiar to you. Not only could you hum them, but you may have memories attached to some of them, which means they have meaning for you before we even start to sing. A Canadian choir and its audience step together into this place of connection for a Christmas concert, and that’s where Elektra meets you for ‘Chez Nous: Christmas with Elektra.’”

The concert, which means “at our house” in French, will be performed this coming Sunday afternoon (Nov. 27) at Good Shepherd Church in South Surrey, starting at 3 p.m. CLICK HERE for tickets and more event information.

It’s a rare visit to Surrey for the choir, which was co-founded by Edmundson, a longtime Guildford/Fleetwood-area resident, in 1987.

Pianist Jane Coop will be featured at the concert, which promises beloved Christmas melodies and new seasonal compositions also done with the voices of the Pacific Mennonite Children’s Choir under the direction of Betty-Ann Vroom.

“We offer this concert annually,” Edmundson explains, “but it is always different. Unlike a theatre company that might mount the same play every Christmas, the combination of music that is sung in ‘Chez Nous’ is never the same twice. My challenge is to give it the character and experience we want while also making it fresh. It needs to be satisfying/fresh/challenging to both the choir and the audience and, being by Elektra, excellence matters in the choice of music and the way it’s sung.”

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Back in 1987, Edmundson chatted with a fellow choral director at a Vancouver Chamber Choir concert – a conversation that gave birth to Elektra.

“I was with Diane Loomer,” Edmundson recently told the Vancouver Sun. “I had just come back from studying in Sweden for a year, and we thought, ‘No one is singing the women’s choir repertoire – I wonder what the repertoire is?’”

Over its three decades, Elektra has explored all the important music for women’s choir, spearheaded the creation of countless new scores and raised the profile of female choirs.

As with every good idea, there were naysayers.

“Everyone said: ‘You will run out of music, and it’s impossible to co-direct a choir!’”

But Loomer and Edmundson’s vision prevailed.

“It was a synergy of all sorts of things – something that wanted to happen.”

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Perhaps the greatest hurdle was the notion that choral music for women’s voices was relegated to the bottom of the vocal food chain.

“What we didn’t realize was that in the choral world, it was always at the bottom of the business card: ‘I conduct this, I conduct this, and I also conduct a women’s choir!’ Then we realized there were lots of people conducting women’s choirs who wanted validation.”

The sustained success of Elektra has changed things, and not just in British Columbia. The choir not only commissioned new works, but shared its repertoire online, making its resources and research available to other ensembles.

Loomer died in 2012, and although Edmundson is proud of her choir and her role, she’s characteristically modest.

“I don’t want to take too much credit, because there were lots of people doing the same work.”

Looking ahead, Elektra is among 24 choirs from around the world set to attend the 11th World Symposium on Choral Music in Barcelona next July.

with file from Vancouver Sun


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