Big Rock Singers concert a vocal collaboration

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Voices will rise together in Okotoks in the spirit of Christmas and for Canada’s sesquicentennial anniversary next month.

The 67-strong Big Rock Singers vocal group is joining forces with the Alberta High School of Fine Arts vocal ensemble and Okotoks Idol winner Brettyn Rose and runner up Percy Devon for A Very Canadian Christmas concert. The concert will feature folk, First Nations, Inuit and indigenous songs Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 2 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the Okotoks United Church.

“It’s a special time of year and a lot of our singers truly enjoy the Christmas season and singing the type of songs that we do,” said Nairn Nerland, Big Rock Singers marketing director. “It’s special to share that with Okotoks. There are a lot of concerts that go on during the Christmas time, but I think we present the Christmas spirit in our own unique way.”

Nerland describes the line-up of music as eclectic.

“We’ve got great Canadian and Christmas songs,” he said. “We pride ourselves in presenting unique performances every time.”

The Big Rock Singers have been rehearsing A Very Canadian Christmas since the first week of September, preparing a line-up of songs including some by highly-acclaimed and award-winning musicians Paul Brandt and Ian Tyson.

Among Nerland’s favourites are Brandt’s rendition of Alberta Bound.

“It’s just fun to sing,” he said. “It’s lively. It’s a beautiful song. It celebrates what Alberta is about.”

Another favourite is Ian Tamblyn’s folk song Woodsmoke and Oranges, which Nerland describes as a beautiful song about Canada, the Great Lakes and the voyaging way of life.

“We do it completely a cappella,” he said. “It has this beautiful indigenous rhythm to it that we sing throughout the song.”

The Alberta High School of Fine Arts vocal ensemble will join the Big Rock Singers for some songs, said high school music director Nicole Hounjet.

The high school singers have their work cut out for them, considering the treble choir of soprano and alto voices is joining forces with a mixed choir that includes tenor and bass, Hounjet said.

“We are very adept at a small chamber ensemble way of singing,” she said. “When we sing, the girls have the freedom to take up more space, use more energy and air and sing with a more projected sound. There are challenges about singing in a larger group.”

Hounjet said there is more attention to diction and precision in a larger group because there are more people to coordinate with.

“When you’re singing one of 18 you can look at each other and get a sense from time spent in rehearsal,” she said. “They are going to be singing with 70 other singers who they don’t know.”

While the young choir joined the large community singing group for the first time on Monday night, the Big Rock Singers’ music director Carey Gruber has been attending the school’s rehearsals as conductor.

The school-age vocalists will perform two Remembrance Day theme songs, a French folk song and contemporary Christmas song in the style of a 15th century chant.

“We are really fortunate in Canada in terms of our choral repertoire,” Hounjet said. “We have outstanding choral composers.”

Hounjet considers the vocal ensemble lucky to having the chance to perform alongside the Big Rock Singers.

“We really believe in those collaborative community concerts,” she said.

“It allows the choristers to understand the development of a choral singer and to understand that after they leave my program that there are other places and other ways to stay involved in music.”

Nerland said the Okotoks vocal group changed venues from the Foothills Centennial Centre to the church to offer a more intimate environment and sound.

“Because we are focusing on the music we don’t have as much showmanship as we do the spring show,” he said. “It’s a smaller venue. We wanted to run three shows that put out more acoustic quality music.”

The Big Rock Singers is offering a bake sale and refreshments during the performances.

Tickets to watch A Very Canadian Christmas cost $30 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for children and cost $5 more at the door if tickets are available. Tickets can be purchased at bigrocksingers.com

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