“The community choir is open to anyone who wants to sing from the age of 18. We have people who have no experience and who can’t read music, but who have always wanted to sing. Then we have people who have sung a lot in the past and want to continue in a welcoming social environment.
CANMORE – It has been a difficult two years for the Valley Winds Community Choir due to the pandemic.
But the organization is ready to get things back to normal as it ventures into its final choir season.
“The world came to a standstill in March 2020 and we took our season off and lost about six or seven weeks of what would have been our normal season,” said Valley Winds Community Choir co-director Sue Chick Denton. “From fall 2020 to spring 2021, we did Zoom sessions. It was hard. In Zoom, you have to deal with lag and time travel situations for sound.
While it took a lot of work to get the Zoom sessions working for this choir season, it helped keep everyone connected in the choir.
“We had a few theme parties where people dressed up, just to get things going,” Denton said. “It’s no way to lead a choir, but it kept us connected.”
For the choir season running from fall 2021 to spring 2022, choristers could come together but wore masks for part of the season.
“Singing with a mask on isn’t fun, but singing in real space with your people is better than singing on Zoom,” Denton said. “We started at Miners Union Hall and then moved to Seniors Center.”
While the choir’s membership was down, they were able to hold a successful concert at the end of the spring season this year. Now it’s time for the choir to get back to normal with its final season.
“We believe this fall will be the first return to a normal season, post-pandemic,” Denton said.
The choir began in 1994 when Rotary Club President Bob Aishford visited his club with the idea of starting a group in Canmore. Ten years ago, Denton and Lee Ann DeCoteau became directors. At the time, there had been strong membership in the choir, but it was beginning to falter.
“When we took over the choir, we looked at what we had, maybe 30 singers, and about two of them were men,” Denton said. “We thought about it for a bit, and we decided the best way to attract men was to wash them down with beer, so we came up with our first MenBeerShip Drive and had it at the Canmore Legion.”
The campaign was incredibly successful, increasing the number of men in the choir from two to 17.
“It was just a big event that brought attention to the fact that we needed male voices, but we’re fun and everyone is welcome,” Denton said.
This year, MenBeerShip Drive returns as the organization seeks to increase its membership for the mixed choir and the male choir.
“It’s for both choirs, mixed and male. It’s a way to get people out, have a beer, have fun,” DeCoteau said. “We’re going to do some singing and just hope to increase our membership for the mixed choir and Men of the Mountains.”
The male choir began a year after Denton and DeCoteau took over the choir. At first it was a side project for DeCoteau which began with rehearsals in his living room before moving to the United Church.
“The MenBeerShip Drive got our numbers up and the men, when we got to the end of our season, approached me and said they wanted to sing over the summer,” DeCoteau said.
Eventually, the male choir would come under the umbrella of the Valley Winds Community Choir.
After losing members to the pandemic in the previous two seasons and with new residents arriving in Canmore, DeCoteau and Denton felt it was the right time for the membership drive.
“We’re just trying to get the old members back and appeal to the new demographics of Canmore,” DeCoteau said. “It’s constantly changing and there are people moving in who don’t know our association and what we are.”
For the 2022-23 season, a concert is scheduled for the first weekend of December.
“This will be our first winter concert since 2019,” Denton said. “We will also do a spring concert, at the beginning of May.”
While the concerts are big events, they are the weekly rehearsals and everyone’s get-together. Denton and DeCoteau will help people with their singing technique, ear development and more during these rehearsals.
“The community choir is open to anyone who wants to sing – from around 18 years old. We have people who have no experience and can’t read music, but who have always wanted to sing,” Denton said. “Then we have people who have sung a lot in the past and want to continue in a welcoming social environment.”
The benefits of joining the choir also go far beyond learning to sing, according to DeCoteau.
“Singing is a social event and it’s a safe place for people who have no other social interaction. It becomes a supportive community for individuals,” DeCoteau said. “It improves your physical health because you improve your lung function, your brain function and emotionally too you are happier. Music releases endorphins, as does exercise. You hear the runner’s high, well, singers get the same high.
The MenBeerShip Drive will take place August 30 at the Canmore Brewing Company, starting at 6:30 p.m. with a social evening and presentations at 7 p.m.
Anyone interested in joining the choir can also attend rehearsals on Tuesday evenings at 7:30 p.m. at St. Micheal’s Parish Hall. The first rehearsal will take place on September 6.
For more information about the choir, visit www.valleywindsmusic.org.