THUNDER BAY, ON - December 8, 2009 - The Fort William Male Choir has traditionally brought the city an early taste of Christmas on the first weekend of December. It is a coveted spot on the community auditorium calendar, and many other groups (mostly from out of town) would love to have this weekend. The reason is simple; it is a great time to have a Christmas concert. One reason the Male Choir can keep this spot is they are one of the few groups and who can run the same show two days in succession at the Community Auditorium and still make money.
This year marked the 82nd anniversary of this Christmas tradition. The Male Choir was the first community group to book the auditorium after it was built. Their experience in this facility allows them to produce a Christmas show that is unparalleled in the city. The choir has a depth of knowledge when it comes to set design, lighting design, wardrobe and costume design that is tailored to the use of this facility. The result is a Christmas experience that is unmatched in the city. When it comes to presenting Christmas concerts in the Community Auditorium, the Fort William Male Choir does so many things right that it is easy to forgive some of their faults musically, in truth the FWMC “Prelude to Christmas” is more show than a concert, as I canvassed the audience, people were having a good night out.
Like the choir itself, the audience is getting on in age, and many fine details in the program, such as the advertising all cater to seniors needs. Even the ushers for the evening were more mature. The show brought back to life tunes from the 1960’s onward and so many people there loved to hear the tunes they listened to when they were young. This is not a musically sophisticated crowd, and throughout the concert camera flashes were going off, people were commenting on what they were seeing on stage, and some of the elderly were joyfully humming along to every tune wither they knew it or not. People were having a great stroll down memory lane and wanted to capture a little with a picture. Clearly this was no place for a tux, but a great place to watch a good show.
A two hour concert of short pieces creates a wonderful opportunity for a skilled set and lighting designer. For years Paul Dudar has handled this task. Paul instinctively knows how to present a visual impression on stage. Every single piece the choir sang was accompanied with a unique visual impression. Visual impression is important at concerts. It is also important to frequently change these impressions (visual velocity) during a show. The reason is simple it keeps the show alive and the audience guessing what the choir will do next.
One thing I wish the choir would give up on is the use of pre-recorded guitar and drums for their opening number, “Why we Sing”. It did not work the last time they tried it and on Friday it didn’t work at all. To make things worse when the music got out of sync with the stage production, the choir tried to shout it down. This is an attempt to give the aging choir a more contemporary sound. They would be much better off to invite some real musicians in to play the parts.
For as long as I have known the Male Choir, they have always sung their concerts memorized. You could never present an informal setting such as this one if everybody was holding a black folder and had their heads in the music. Singing by rote memory is hard to do and requires a lot of practice, but there are benefits in performance. A second benefit of rote singing is it allows the choir to stand closer together. While it may not look as impressive on stage, the sound and music quality has huge benefits. The singers can hear one another better, and the choir can produce a strong confident focused sound.
Single gender choirs possess some advantages over mixed choirs. One of them is power. The tessitura or best range for each singer is represented by the section of the choir they sing in. This means that most of the time the singers are comfortable with the range of notes they have to sing. The Male choir is capable of singing a full dynamic range from forte to triple forte with ease. Personally I like the choir best when they sing in soft sustained sounds.
The concerts of the Fort William Male Choir are one of the unique experiences that we have in Thunder Bay. You will not have this brand of entertainment elsewhere, and for this reason alone it is worth attending next year’s event. Time may be running out on the Male Choir, and it is anything but certain how many years they can continue to present such wonderful “Preludes to Christmas”. The choir demographic is set against the choir’s future. With no clear plan for succession in place, and the majority of its members well into retirement it is only logical to assume that this show cannot go on forever. Twenty years ago I remember attending a big sing. The other Canadian Choir present came from Winnipeg. They were much older and smaller that the FWMC, and one member of the bass section said “When we look like that it will be time to quit”. That time will soon be upon the choir, this year the numbers of men performing on stage was noticeably less than the fifty plus members that were common just 15 years ago. If this trend continues there will continue to be huge talent losses for the choir.
I firmly believe that the joys of music can be one of the things that make life worthwhile. Many singers in this choir have been with the choir for over 50 years. Singing keeps your mind active, and causes the blood to flow. Membership provides great social opportunities, and friendship that last a lifetime. Being a member of the choir requires commitment. The strength of this commitment often lasts a lifetime. In the mean time I plan not to miss the Sing-a-long Smorgasbord this spring, and certainly not next year’s “Prelude to Christmas”; that will be my brother’s 50th year of singing in the choir.
Arts Editor: LakeSuperiorNews.com
From the FWMC website