SURREY — Jim Edmondson has been organizing before-school singing sessions in Surrey for as long as he can remember, and he has recycled posters to prove it.
“Some of them are getting really ratty and old,” he said of his 20-year collection of “Carolling Before School with Mr. E” advisories, some of them currently taped to hallway walls at Harold Bishop Elementary in Guildford.
Edmondson is a school counsellor there, and he’ll soon retire after four decades of work in Surrey schools.
“I started teaching in Surrey in 1974, I’ve been a counsellor since ’83 and I bopped around from school to school, mostly in North Surrey,” he explained. “This is my last school. I’ve been down to two days a week since 2009, and I keep threatening to retire, but now it’s final, I’m done – not at the end of the school year but in December.”
And so, Mr. E will close the book on his education career, but not before he boards a Vancouver-bound bus with a group of Harold Bishop kids that share his love of singing.
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PICTURED: Students and school staff sing at Harold Bishop Elementary in Guildford. Photo: Tom Zillich
For weeks, the before-school carollers have been practising 30 minutes a day, two days a week, for Yule Duel. The festive event, which will be held in Gastown on Thursday evening (Dec. 1), is billed as “Vancouver’s largest outdoor carolling competition,” featuring a couple dozen vocal groups – everything from professional to, well, the gang from Harold Bishop.
For Edmondson, this musical “swan song” of his plays close to his heart, as Yule Duel serves as a fundaising event for May’s Place, a hospice in Vancouver operated by the non-profit Bloom Group.
“My ex-wife, but only just, died in one of their palliative care centres (The Cottage) in August of 2015,” Edmondson said.
“It’s a wonderful place,” he added.
“This is my way of helping them.”
So far, the sole contribution posted on the choir’s Fundrazr.com page is $1,000, from Rositch Hemphill Architects.
At Yule Duel, with guitar in hand and well-photocopied “Songs for Christmas” sheets distributed, Edmondson will strum and sing with the kids for 45 minutes.
Naturally, the students are pretty stoked about a school-night road trip that will involve a pre-performance dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory.
“These are kids from (Kindergarten) to Grade 7,” Edmondson said, “and some of the younger kids will sing ‘Rudolph’ and ‘Jingle Bells’ and maybe make some noises for the rest of it because they don’t know the words, and the older kids will fill in the blanks.”
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Edmondson’s song sheet includes lyrics to his own “The Alternate Noel,” a humorous riff on “The First Noel” melody that confirms yes, Santa’s name is spelled with “no ‘l,’ no ‘l’… And he won’t bring you gifts if you don’t learn to spell.
“That’s the end of this tune and you probably can tell,” the song concludes, “That we’ve ruined it completely, that song you know well.”
Whatever the song, Edmondson has made music more memorable for kids, some of whom have been carolling with him for six years at Harold Bishop.
“This is the first and last time they’ll do (Yule Duel), unless somebody picks up where I’ve left off here,” Edmondson said.
On Water Street, Yule Duel will run from 6 to 9 p.m. on Dec. 1. Those who attend are encouraged to purchase a $5 button in order to vote for their favourite choir in a variety of categories.
At 8 p.m., a panel of judges will pick the top two ensembles to “duel” it out on stage. This year’s judges include Surrey-raised Rebecca Bolwitt, who runs Miss604.com, and Guildford resident Morna Edmondson, director of Elektra Women’s Choir.
(Scroll down to see event promo video)