Trial by candlelight

Karl Wells
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Preview of Cantus Vocums annual soiree proves the case for a memorable evening of music and dining

A preview of this years Cantus Vocum by Candlelight dinner was held at one of the homes that will welcome guests on May 12 the elegant dining room of the groups conductor, Chad Stride. Photos by Karl Wells

In life, friends and family are most important. Then, for me, its good food, good music and good wine.

When the latter are combined for an evening of entertainment in support of a good cause even better.

Cantus Vocum (CV) is a chamber choir of about 20 founded in 1995. During the past decade they have been entertaining audiences in public and private venues in Canada and Europe. Their rendition of the Ode to Newfoundland (on their CD, Home) will send shivers down your spine.

Each year since its inception they have been musical guests at the CBC reading of A Christmas Carol. Ive often joked that the opportunity to hear Cantus Vocum live is the reason I take part. (Although I really do enjoy playing Ebenezer Scrooge. Oh please! No jokes at my expense!)

Like all arts groups, Cantus Vocum occasionally stages fundraising events. Their most significant event is an annual soiree called CV by Candlelight. The evening begins with a private performance by the choir at a special location. Following the small concert, paying guests travel to one of a dozen or so private homes to enjoy cocktails and a four-course meal with wine.

Heres a funny story. One year, Connie Haywards beautiful home was employed. Just as the guests arrived (in their best bib and tucker) the power went. Completely.

Choir members had to scramble to keep guests entertained while they made alternate arrangements for preparing and heating the food. Bottles of vino were cracked and songs were sung by all present.

Guests that evening included the lieutenant-governor and Her Honour, and ironically Angus Bruneau, chairman (at the time) of Newfoundland Power.

Connie told me the presence of the lieutenant-governor and partner added to the considerable stress of the evening for her, especially since earlier that day Government House had sent a protocol officer to her home to instruct her in matters of how to greet the vice regal couple and so forth. (I felt for Hayward because she is so unpretentious and down-to-earth. Such formality would definitely have put her off.)



Are we in the right house?

When the lieutenant-governor arrived it was pitch black and all hands were in the kitchen fumbling around in the dark trying to get the stove going. Hayward knew nothing before the vice-regals were standing in her dark kitchen. Are we in the right house? asked Her Honour.

Hayward nearly fainted. But the show went on. Eventually, the food was heated on a propane barbecue and served without a hitch. In the end, everyone agreed it was one of the best evenings theyd had in a long while. Be warned, however, that not all power failures bring about such a happy result!

Recently, I was invited to a preview of this years dinner. It was held at one of the homes that will welcome guests on May 12. The elegant dining room, belonging to Cantus Vocum conductor Chad Stride, is comparable to the other dining rooms that will be used on the night.

The guest list for the preview dinner included choir supporters and a few members of Cantus Vocum. Among them was Gillian Peters, who sings alto in the choir.

Peters is also a talented cook and main force behind the candlelight fundraiser. She creates the menu, cooks the 150 meals needed and also prepares detailed plating and serving instructions for choir members, who act as servers in each of the homes.

After a leisurely wine aperitif, we sat in for our first course. It was a delicious cream of tomato soup with fresh basil chiffonade. Think fresh, ripe, sliced tomato, fresh basil and onion salad drizzled with a rich creamy dressing. Now think of it in hot liquid form and you will have a pretty good idea of how Peters soup tasted. It was a fine beginning to the CV by Candlelight dinner rehearsal.

A perfectly executed shrimp salad followed. Fresh greens dressed in dill, chive and ginger vinaigrette were topped with beautiful, big, juicy, cold shrimp, rich avocado, mango and mushrooms. The perfect textures in this salad equaled its top-notch flavour and punch. The creaminess of the sliced avocado added enormously to the enjoyment of the salad.

The main course was paprika chicken, egg noodles, rutabaga souffle and sautéed snow peas. The chicken was moist and plump; the vegetable souffle was sweet and fluffy. I like others was also pleased with the generous portions.

Dessert for the rehearsal dinner was a moist carrot cake. It wasnt the dessert that will be served on May 12. On the night of the event, desserts served will be made by baker and choir patron, Suzanne Steele. Word is that Suzanne makes amazingly good desserts. Ive tasted her mother Janes delicious desserts, so Id bet hers would be grand as well.

Toward the end of our meal, our host announced that this years fundraiser dinner would be called Trial by Candlelight. I thought Stride was kidding because of the hard work involved but, no. Why trial? Its because the musical portion of the May 12 evening (the mini-concert) will happen in Courtroom No. 1 at the provincial courthouse. Cantus Vocum will sing from the jury box, while guests look on from the floor of the courtroom.

There may have been plenty of singing coming from the witness box over the years. However, I think its safe to say that this will be the first performance from the jury box. Im told the acoustics in Courtroom 1 are fabulous, equalling that of an ancient European chapel. (I suppose it would have to be good, given its main purpose. Jury members need to hear every single word dont they?)

I actually served on a jury in that courtroom once. Unfortunately I didnt have an opportunity to sing My Way or even Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Dont laugh I do a fine job on both. Regardless, Im quite sure that Cantus Vocum could sing from the inside of a corrugated cardboard box and still sound utterly beautiful.

It seems like Cantus Vocums Trial by Candlelight evening is shaping up to be loads of fun. If you are interested in attending, the ticket price is a very reasonable $125 of which $100 is tax deductible. If youd like to purchase a ticket please contact Cantus Vocum at info@cantusvocum.com.



Karl Wells appears nightly on CBC News: Here & Now. He is also a restaurant panellist with enRoute magazine. To reach him, log on to his website: www.karlwells.com.

Organizations: CBC News, Newfoundland Power, Government House

Geographic location: Canada, Europe, Newfoundland Little Star

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