Timed with the 140th anniversary of the first performance of “O Canada,” two Surrey-based music groups have put their virtual spin on the national anthem.
A few dozen singers with Westcoast Harmony Chorus are featured in an “O Canada Virtual Chorus” video posted to the group’s Youtube page on Tuesday (June 23), in a first performance of its kind for the chorus.
“We are very proud of this because it turned out so well,” said chorus member Joyce Gram.
“You would not believe how much time and effort goes into producing this,” she added. “Forty-nine singers participated, including three guests from other choruses. Our director, Anne Downton, edited the audio, and a relatively new member to Westcoast, Erica Yan, edited the video. Every singer put in many, many hours to produce their best.”
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Turns out that June 24 is the 140th anniversary of when “O Canada” was first performed.
“We didn’t know this before today,” Gram said. “A website called Good News Network noticed our video and has featured it (along with history of the song).”
• RELATED STORY, from 2018: Surrey chorus tunes up for Sweet Adelines International gathering in St. Louis.
Westcoast Harmony typically rehearses at Parkland Baptist Church, located at the corner of 96th Avenue and 160th Street in Surrey, every Wednesday evening, but those gatherings were suspended in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, rehearsals have been held on the Zoom conference app.
“We have as many as 60 people each Wednesday night, and we haven’t missed a week,” Gram explained. “Our director and others have been brilliant in what they’ve been doing for us, to rehearse that way.”
She said the version of “O Canada” is a test run for another song the chorus wants to sing, for a second video.
“Now that we’ve done it and it’s gone so well, we’re planning another. There’s a lot of technology involved.”
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Meantime, in another video, members of Surrey City Orchestra (SCO) assembled, from a distance, to perform Claude Lapalme’s rendition of “O Canada.”
“With a special appearance with MP for Surrey Centre, Randeep Sarai, a total of 28 members of the SCO recorded their audio and video which was stitched together ahead of the Canada Day celebrations,” Christine Lin, the orchestra’s personnel manager, told the Now-Leader.
“In a time where live performances are rare, artists are turning to virtual concert spaces to connect with fellow musicians and make some music,” Lin noted in an email. “COVID-19 has devastated the performing arts community, and with large concerts cancelled across the country, a local professional orchestra has come together to celebrate Canada Day.”
“O Canada” was first performed on June 24, 1880, at a banquet in the Pavillon des Patineurs, in the City of Québec, according to a post at canada.ca.
“Some think of Calixa Lavallée as an obscure music teacher who improvised a patriotic song in a moment of inspiration, but the truth is quite different,” according to the website.
“Known as ‘Canada’s national musician,’ Calixa Lavallée was asked to compose the music for a poem written by Adolphe-Basile Routhier. The song was to be performed in honour of the Congrès national des Canadiens-Français (National Congress of French Canadian), on June 24, 1880, at the same time as the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations.
“Government officials had first thought of holding a competition for a national hymn, but by January the committee in charge decided there was not enough time. So the Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec, the Honourable Théodore Robitaille, commissioned Judge Routhier to write a hymn and Lavallée to compose the music.
“Lavallée made a number of drafts before the song we know today was greeted with enthusiasm by his musical friends. It is said that in his excitement, Lavallée rushed to show his music to the Lieutenant‑Governor without even stopping to sign the manuscript.”