By Kathryn-Jane Hazel
When a massive fire destroyed the sawmill in Burns Lake this January, killing two people and seriously injuring 19 others, the small northern community was in shock.
It was a devastating blow to the residents, but singing helped bring them together in the days after the tragedy, said Garry Froese, the new artistic director of the Malaspina Choir.
News clips showed them singing to lend support to their fellow community members who were suffering, a strong example of what song can do to unite and heal, he said.
“Singing cuts through so many barriers found in communication, and that can be particularly important in tough times,” Froese said.
Froese, who has an extensive background in choral conducting in the U.S. and Canada, is impressed by Nanaimo’s arts community.
“I am surprised at the sheer amount of cultural activity taking place here,” he said. “But I am not surprised at the tenacity and commitment of the people involved at the organizational level.”
That kind of tenacity is vital for arts organizations – and particularly choral groups – to survive in today’s tough economic climate. But that same fiscal environment also creates opportunities for change and growth.
“Arts groups now have to join forces for mutual benefit, be it joint marketing or administration, which, when done together, will mean less diversion of precious cash flow,” Froese said.
Choral groups especially need to become less fragmented. Having a hub of busy choral activity can be an indication of strength, but it can also deplete the existing pool of skilled choristers, concert sponsors and audiences.
Fortunately, choral groups, by their very nature, are fiscally efficient, as most of their work is done with amateurs, they have few capital costs, and focus on educational programs, he said.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the choral groups of Nanaimo and Vancouver Island can use these difficult economic times to re-invent themselves and become stronger by working together.
Froese conducts his first concert with the Malaspina Choir, Unity in Song, Sunday (April 15), 7 p.m., at St. Andrew’s United Church.
The 60-member mixed-voice choir will be performing a variety of choral works that focus on his favourite theme of the power of song in bringing people and communities together.
Tickets $20; $15/students; $5/EyeGo program through the Port Theatre ticket centre. Please call 250-754-8550 or visit www.porttheatre.com. Tickets will also be available at the door.