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 latest choir season.
“The world shut down in March of 2020 and we aborted our season and lost about six or seven weeks of what would have been our normal season,” said Sue Chick Denton, co-director of the Valley Winds Community Choir. “The fall of 2020 to the spring of 2021, we did Zoom sessions. It was difficult. In Zoom you have to deal with situations around lag and time travel for sound.”
While it was a lot of work to make the Zoom sessions work for that choir season, it helped to keep everyone connected in the choir.
“We did a couple of theme nights where people would dress up, just to keep things moving forward,” Denton said. “It is not a way to run a choir, but it kept us connected.”
For the choir season running from the autumn of 2021 to the spring of 2022, choir members could meet but they wore masks for part of the season.
“Singing with a mask is not fun but singing in real space with your people is better than singing on Zoom,” Denton said. “We started at the Miners Union Hall and then moved over to the Seniors Centre.”
While the numbers for the choir were down, they were able to put on a successful concert at the end of the spring season this year. Now, it is time for the choir to get back to normal with its latest season.
“We feel like this fall will be the first back to normal sort of season, post-pandemic,” Denton said.
The choir started in 1994 when Bob Aishford, president of the Rotary Club, went to his club with the idea of creating a band in Canmore. Ten years ago, Denton and Lee Ann DeCoteau came in as directors. At the time, there had been a strong membership in the choir, but it was beginning to lose steam.
“When we took over the choir, we looked at what we had, 30 singers maybe, and about two of those were men,” Denton said. “We brainstormed a bit, and we decided that the best way to attract men was to ply them with beer, so we dreamt up our first MenBeerShip Drive and had it at the Canmore Legion.”
The drive was incredibly successful, expanding the male membership in the choir from two to 17.
“It was just a great event that drew attention to the fact that we had a need for male voices, but that we are fun, and everyone is welcome,” Denton said.
This year, the MenBeerShip Drive returns as the organization looks to increase its membership for both the mixed choir and the men’s choir.
“It is for both choirs, the mixed and the men’s. It is a way to bring people out, have a beer, have some fun”, said DeCoteau. “We will do some singing and just hope to drive our membership numbers up for both the mixed choir and Men of the Mountains.”
The men’s choir began one year after Denton and DeCoteau took over the choir. At first, it was a side project for DeCoteau that began with rehearsals in her living room before moving into the United Church.
“The MenBeerShip Drive drove up our numbers and the men, when we got to the end of our season, approached me and said they wanted to sing during the summer,” DeCoteau said.
Eventually, the men’s choir would move under the umbrella of the Valley Winds Community Choir.
After losing members due to the pandemic the previous two seasons, and with new residents coming into Canmore, both DeCoteau and Denton felt it was a good time for the membership drive.
“We are just trying to recapture past members and appeal to the new demographic in Canmore,” DeCoteau said. “It is always changing and there are people moving in who do not know about our association and what we are all about.”
For the 2022-23 season, there are plans for a concert in the first weekend of December.
“It will be the first winter concert we have done since 2019,” Denton said. “We will do a spring concert as well, at the beginning of May.”
While the concerts are great events, it is about the weekly rehearsals and everyone coming together. Denton and DeCoteau will help people with their singing technique, ear development and more during these rehearsals.
“The community choir is open to anybody who wants to sing – about ages 18 and up. We have people with zero experience and who cannot read music, but always wanted to sing,” Denton said. “Then we have people who have done a lot of singing in their past and want to keep going with that 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 is a safe place for people to go who don’t have any other social interaction. It becomes a supportive community for individuals,” DeCoteau said. “It improves your physical health because you are improving your lung function, your brain function, and emotionally as well you are happier. Music releases endorphins, just like exercise. You hear the runner’s high, well, singers have that same high.”
The MenBeerShip Drive will happen on Aug. 30 at the Canmore Brewing Company, beginning at 6:30 p.m. with a social and introductions at 7 p.m.
Anyone interested in joining the choir can also come out to rehearsals on Tuesday nights at 7:30 p.m. at St. Micheal’s Church Hall. The first rehearsal is on Sept. 6.
For more information about the choir, visit www.valleywindsmusic.org.