For this week, I decided to write about something that has always defined Whistler for me. No, not skiing, but choir!
I first came to Whistler with my high school choir for the 2010 Whistler Music Festival, and returned again in 2013. I joined the Whistler Singers when I came to town last September, and we received a donation at the museum of concert programs, membership lists and song listings from a choir member several months later. With all this in mind, I set to work scouring the archives for anything that could help construct a history of choirs in Whistler.
The earliest reference found was a photograph of the Myrtle Philip School Choir in the December 20, 1978 edition of The Whistler Question. As the school had only opened in 1976, this shows that musical education was available from the very early years.
Another Question photo, dating from 1979, shows a group of young vocalists referred to as the “Community Club Christmas Carol singers.” Various BC choirs gave performances in Whistler in the 1980s, including the Squamish Youth Chorale, a Vancouver a capella group Vox Humana, and the Kildala choir from Kitimat.
Whistler’s first adult choir – the Whistler Singers – began in 1982 with just nine people. It may have started small, but the members’ shared passion for music would carry them on to become Whistler’s longest-running community arts group. Welcoming “anyone aged 13 to 113,” it regularly performs at Remembrance Day and Christmas Eve carol services and performs an annual spring concert.
In April 2003, the Whistler Singers – now 45 strong – released its debut CD, Ascend. The album included Canadian classics, folk anthems, traditional scores, and songs in Hungarian, Welsh, Japanese, Korean and Swahili. Juno-award-winning sound engineer Don Harder lent a hand with the recording and local photographer Leanna Rathkelly designed the album’s cover. This milestone was celebrated with a release party at the Maury Young Millennium Place (now the Maury Young Arts Centre).
The Whistler Children’s Chorus is another time-honoured staple of the Whistler musical scene. This group began in 1991 when a Vancouver orchestra performing Noye’s Fludde, an operatic version of the story of Noah’s Ark, sought a children’s choir to sing with them. Whistler Singers director Molly Boyd rose to the occasion and assembled a group of youngsters aged six and up. The following year it formally became known as the Whistler Children’s Chorus. In addition to regularly yearly concerts (including Remembrance Day and Christmas Eve services with the Whistler Singers), the Chorus has performed in Ottawa for the 2002 Canada Day and at events leading up to and including the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games (they got very good at singing O Canada!).
Another children’s choir, the Moving Chords Youth Showchoir, was also active in Whistler in the 1990s. Information about this group has proved hard to find, but it performed at Our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Church in the summers of 1998 and 1999. A thank you card from the choir directors to their sponsor, the Whistler Community Arts Council, can be found in the museum’s collection.
Since the turn of the millennium, Whistler has drawn in musical talent from around the world. Choirs and small vocal ensembles from outside Canada that performed here in the early 2000s included the Cwmback and Dunvant Male Choirs from Wales, the Dursley Male Voice Choir from Gloucestershire, the British quartet Cantabile and Huun Huur-Tu, throat singers from the state of Tuva in Siberia.
Wherever you are from, Whistler is sure to bring a little music to your life.
Holly Peterson is the archival assistant at the Whistler Museum and Archives. She is here on a Young Canada Works contract after completing the Museum Management and Curatorship program at Fleming College (Peterborough, Ontario).