Vocal groups coming together

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Two singers who spent their childhoods performing in school choirs in England and are now living in Canada have reconnected with their roots.

Richard Ellum is the first tenor in the Foothills Men’s Chorus, formerly the Okotoks Men’s Chorus, and Sue Gothard is second alto in the Foothills Philharmonic Vocal Jazz group. The vocal groups are collaborating in a joint choral celebration called Christmas and Song at the Okotoks Alliance Church Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. Ellum said he’s been with the men’s chorus since its inception in 2005. It is one of a long list of choirs he’s joined since moving to Canada almost 50 years ago. Among those he’s been a part of is the Okotoks United Church Choir, High Country Chorale and Big Rock Singers. He also sings with the Foothills Philharmonic Chamber Chorus.

“One of the reasons for moving around is there comes a point in time when it’s nice to get into a different group with a different group of people, a different repertoire, a different director’s approach to things,” he said.

When it comes to the Foothills Men’s Chorus, Ellum said he’s still feeling challenged.

“I just like the arrangements that we sing and the challenge of it,” he said. “When you’re in a smaller group – there is only 14 of us altogether – it’s more demanding of you. There is only two or three of us in each section so you can’t get lost in the crowd. That’s what I like about it. It puts more responsibility on you to know what you’re doing.”

Foothills Men’s Chorus director Tim Korthuis said the choral group will sing songs like What Child is This, Sleigh Ride and an arrangement of In the Bleak Midwinter by accompanist Heather Holland, a Christmas song that’s popular in England.

Combining the men’s chorus with the vocal jazz group in a Christmas concert offers more variety to listeners, said Korthuis.

“When we collaborate with multiple groups, it’s less intensive than for one ensemble to put on a whole repertoire for the evening,” he said. “It’s an easy collaboration because we have all been preparing Christmas music that we’ve been performing at different venues.”

Incorporating a jazz element to the concert is something Gothard looks forward to. She’s been a member of the Foothills Philharmonic Vocal Jazz group since it began two years ago.

“We are doing some jazz versions of Carol of the Bells and Here We Come A-Caroling and a lovely rendition of a pentatonic, which are tricky to learn,” she said. “Jazz is such a happy sound to be able to juxtapose a jazzy sound with souped-up Christmas carols. You can incorporate jazz in things like the songs you grew up with. We do anything from jazz classics to music from the ’70s.”

Gothard sang in school choirs during her childhood in England. She took a break from singing but rediscovered it several years later.

“I reacquainted myself with singing in my 30s and I love it,” she said. “I always loved harmony.”

Gothard was a member of the Westwinds Music Society in Calgary for several years before she joined the Foothills Philharmonic Society.

“When I found out that a choir was starting in Okotoks I thought it would be lovely to try a local choir and if it didn’t work out, I could always go back to Westwinds,” she said. “It worked out so beautifully. It’s just so much fun to do.”

Tickets for Christmas and Song cost $15 and can be purchased at foothillsphilharmonic.com. Children ages 12 and under are free.

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