The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Barbed Choir
There’s something a little ‘Sound of Music’ -ish about it… a group of people living up in the mountains who just like to sing, being led by a vivacious and perky ringleader who plays maestro. For Jeanette Bruce, Program Coordinator at Whistler Library and fearless leader of local singing group ‘Barbed Choir’, it’s not just about Do, Re and Mi. It’s about bringing a community together through song, and having some fun!
This is no endearing performance of ‘So Long, Farewell’… This is rock, alternative and modern hits, reimagined in a cappella, all in a fun group setting. So we decided to find out more about our local Maria Von Trapp, local singing group Barbed Choir and what they have in store for us this holiday season.
How did you end up in Whistler?
I was attending grad school at Simon Fraser University (studying freshwater fish ecology, of all things), and my partner was hired as the Collections Manager for the Whistler Museum and Archives Society. When I ultimately decided that academia/fisheries biology wasn’t the path for me, I joined him in Whistler with not much of a plan, and the community completely embraced me.
How did you come about working at the library?
I was working at our incredible local bookstore, Armchair Books, and through that gig I was lucky enough to meet Public Services Librarian Nadine White. Nadine and I cooked up the idea of the Community Book Club as a partnership between Armchair and the Library, and I started facilitating that program. When Claire Ruddy left the Library to take the helm at AWARE, her position as Program Coordinator was suddenly available, so I applied, and the rest is history.
How did Barbed Choir begin?
Barbed Choir would not exist without Stephen Vogler and Dan Raven Fallon! Dan had participated in a similar group called Midnight Choir in Winnipeg, and he pitched the idea of starting a pop-up choir here in Whistler (at The Point) to Stephen. They approached me as a local “choir-ish” person (who at the time had only one season of conducting the Whistler Children’s Chorus under her belt!) and I agreed to try leading the group. We started meeting at The Point with Stephen and Dan taking turns playing guitar, and soon after, Laura Nedelak came on board as our permanent guitar player.
Give us some details about how it all goes down!
Barbed Choir meets every other Sunday during the fall and winter at Whistler Public Library – our first session of 2020 will be on Sunday, January 26 at 7 p.m. During the spring/summer, we meet monthly at The Point (also on Sundays at 7 p.m.). BC is open to all adults, with no musical/singing experience required, just a desire to make music and have fun in a judgment-free environment. There’s only one rule at BC: no spectators allowed! We don’t perform for anyone but ourselves, so if you come to a meeting, you have to sing!
For those who are completely unfamiliar with the concept: At Barbed Choir, we learn one song from start to finish each session. We announce the songs ahead of time, but there’s no preparation required. You don’t have to read music or have the song memorized – I teach all the parts by ear and distribute a lyrics sheet to attendees. By the end of the session, we are able to sing through the entire song in 2/3/sometimes 4-part harmony!
How do you decide on the songs?
Members of the Facebook group can suggest songs at any time; I keep a list of all of them and do a poll in the group a few times of year to see what folks want to sing the most. Laura and I also occasionally pick songs that other groups (like Choir! Choir! Choir!) have done recently with a fun, easy arrangement.
Tell us about Singapalooza – how did you get the idea?
Mo Douglas approached me last year to suggest that Barbed Choir could be a part of the Arts Whistler holiday line-up in some way, and Singapalooza was born! It’s a bit different than our typical session, in that we do a bit of a singalong to start the event (of holiday favourites, of course), there’s a brief intermission, and then we learn the “featured” song from start to finish – this year, the featured song is Last Christmas by Wham! We’re also collecting donations for the Food Bank at Singapalooza (non-perishable items are great, but cash is king!), whereas our regular BC sessions are 100% free to attend. And finally, BC is an adult program during the rest of the year, but Singapalooza is for all ages.
Can anyone come and sing or is it more of a performance for people to watch?
As I mentioned above, Barbed Choir is NOT a spectator sport. So, if you come out for Singapalooza, I will (gently) force you to sing. I think this is very important – a lot of people are out there making themselves very vulnerable, singing in public for the first time in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years (and so on), or EVER. So there’s a social contract that we ALL participate! The “choir” sits in the audience at Maury Young Arts Centre, with just Laura and me on the stage, so it doesn’t feel like a choir concert at all!
What does the future hold for Barbed Choir?
We’re a continually growing group that’s not afraid to take on a challenge, so I think we’ll continue gathering new participants and trying songs from a huge range of genres and artists.
How can people become a part of it?
Adults can join us for any of our scheduled meetings – no registration required. You can come to one session or every single meeting, there’s no pressure to attend every time. We find that some people come faithfully no matter what the song and some people only join us when we’re singing a song they love – but there’s no wrong way to participate!
How can people find out more information?
I recommend folks join our Facebook group if they want the most up-to-date information on what we’re singing next and if they want to participate in the song selection process. Dates and times are also listed at whistlerlibrary.ca/events/barbed-choir. If you’d like to hear some of our past songs, we upload our recordings at soundcloud.com/barbedchoir!
Arts Whistler Live! Holiday Singapalooza with Barbed Choir
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Whistler’s engaging and entertaining rock choir leader, Jeanette Bruce, is cooking up a set of festive holiday pop songs for an awesome community singalong. Barbed Choir will lead you in some holiday favourites and then work with the audience as a group to learn a version of a bonafide Christmas classic – with harmonies!
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