The scene at Yule Duel, an annual choral event held in Gastown, this year on Thursday, Dec. 7. (submitted photo)

‘Yule Duel’ event in Gastown warms heart of Surrey-based choir judge

Elektra choir boss Morna Edmundson returns to annual choral ‘battle royale’ on Thursday, Dec. 7

SURREY — As judge of an event dubbed Yule Duel, Morna Edmundson loves to stroll around Vancouver’s Gastown district and hear the sounds of the holiday season.

“It’s a really fun night,” said Edmundson, a Surrey resident. “It’s just great to see all kinds of people singing, from workplace choirs to little groups to choirs I’ve heard of before, schools and everything. It’s wonderful.”

Billed as B.C.’s largest outdoor carolling competition, Yule Duel happens for a third year on Thursday, Dec. 7. Hundreds of voices from 20-plus choirs, in a wide range of styles, will fill Water Street that evening as singers go “carolling for a cause.”

Edmundson, artistic director of the long-established Elektra Women’s Choir, has been a Yule Duel judge since the start.

“We have around six or eight judges and we divide into two teams and we go around and listen to each choir,” she explained.

“Each one of the choirs is under a little tent and placed along Water Street, and they’re singing all the time. The public is watching them and moving on to the next one, and everyone is circulating around the street, and we (judges) circulate with the crowd. We stand in front of each tent for a minute or two, listen and then move on to the next one.”

• READ MORE: ‘Yule Duel’ swan song for one music-loving school counsellor in Surrey, from November 2016.

Choirs are judged on musical quality and visual presentation, and finalists are picked for a “sing-off” at the end of the event, which runs from 6 to 9 p.m.

“It’s quite full (of people) as long as it doesn’t rain, and last year was a good crowd,” Edmundson reported. “The streets are crowded and there’s a really great spirit in the whole place. The nice thing is, people just dropping in, for $5 they can buy a (ballot) that allows them to vote, and that makes people feel part of the whole competition, the people’s choice part of it. It’s very light-spirited and happy, enjoyable. Everybody is bringing out their best stuff for this event, with groups doing choreography and all of that. It’s fun.”

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Returning to defend their Yule Duel titles are last year’s champs, Saint James Music Academy, Sweet Scarlet and the Notre Dame Platinum Girls.

The choirs step up theirs acts and get more creative every year, Edmundson noted: “The competition is surprisingly fierce, as there are so many talented vocal groups in Vancouver.”

The choral “battle royale” is hosted by Christopher Gaze, of Bard on the Beach theatre festival fame.

Funds raised from sales of the $5 ballots are given to May’s Place, a hospice located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Last year’s Yule Duel raised $58,000 for the organization, said Michelle Sutherland, manager of hospice services.

This year’s event will feature performances by Marcus Mosely and his gospel choir, Jen Hodge All-Stars and The Real Treblemakers, who will perform local composer Bruce Sled’s “Ice,” a vocal arrangement that uses sung syllables and spoken sound effects “to capture the distinctive sounds of winter weather.”

More event details are posted at yuleduel.com.

• READ MORE: A rare Surrey concert date for Elektra Women’s Choir, from November 2016.

Elsewhere this week, Edmundson’s 45-voice Elektra choir, co-founded in 1987 by the longtime Guildford-area resident, will perform its annual “Chez Nous: Christmas with Elektra” concerts at venues in Vancouver and North Van, on Saturday (Dec. 2) and Sunday (Dec. 3), respectively. For details, visit elektra.ca.

The award-winning choir has also released its 14th CD of music, called Your One and Only Life, with all but one track featuring composers from across Canada. Many of the songs were featured in a performance by Elektra at the World Symposium on Choral Music, which took place in Barcelona, Spain last July.

Edmundson doesn’t sing with the choir, she conducts.

“Years ago I was in the Vancouver Chamber Choir and then, you know, conductors come out of being either pianists or organists or church musicians or singers, and then you finally realize you want to be the one who makes the decisions,” she said with a laugh.

“It’s about paying attention and wanting to choose the music, to interpret how it’s sung, all that kind of thing, and I’ve been doing that part of it for over 30 years now.

“And you know, I never get tired of it,” Edmundson told the Now-Leader on Monday (Nov. 27). “We just performed in Victoria yesterday with Elektra, and I just love choral music and I never get tired of it. I think it’s the best thing people do together. It’s body, it’s spirit, it’s brains, it’s community, everybody has a voice, and all of those things really come together. So it’s really my passion.”

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Surrey resident Morna Edmundson (foreground) is the artistic director of Elektra Women’s Choir. (submitted photo)

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