Forty-two Newfoundland men, in a range of ages similar to those who have served in battle, singing songs of war and peace, in harmony and unison. Newman Sound men’s choir’s Nov. 10 performance at Cochrane Street United Church in St. John’s is guaranteed to be striking and very poignant.
Under the direction of associate conductor Jennifer Hart, the choir is presenting “Remember,” a full-length concert in honour of all those who have served Newfoundland and Canada, with some of the most beautiful music the members could find. They’ll perform Jim Papoulis’ “Libertatum,” a setting of Christina Rosetti’s “Remember” poetry, “Christmas in the Trenches,” and “The Blue Puttee,” a unique piece composed by local native Kathleen Allan, which includes diary and letter excerpts from Owen Steele, a soldier in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
As well, Newman Sound members and guests will share their own stories and thoughts on war and remembrance.
“We want to create a combination of reflection and hope,” explained David Chafe, who co-founded the choir with Kellie Walsh in 2005. Chafe is the co-artistic director, manager and accompanist for the choir. “It’s not going to be a dark, heavy concert or a sad event; we want it to actually be uplifting. It’s a concert of remembrance but we want people to come away feeling happy about what we’ve contributed in battle, and hopefully we can avoid those sorts of scenarios in the future.”
“Remember” is Newman Sound’s first concert since they made history at this year’s World Choir Games, held in Cincinnati last July. The choir was named world champion in the men’s choir category at the games; the first choir from Newfoundland and Labrador ever to take part, and the first Canadian choir ever to win.
Newman Sound had been seen as the dark horse in the competition — “or the white knight, depending on how you want to look at it,” Chafe points out with a laugh — the other choirs having previously won awards. While the men had gone to Cincinnati with a competitive spirit, they didn’t consider they might actually win.
“This is a group of guys who love to sing together and who get together once a week. We went to the peak of the mountain in Cincinnati and it was a very wonderful surprise, and well-deserved by everybody who gave their all,” Chafe said. “We were very, very proud to be Newfoundlanders and Labradorians at that point, for sure.”
What gave Newman Sound the edge? Chafe believes it’s the choir’s uniqueness and the members’ ability to work together so seamlessly.
“It almost feels to me like it’s a sports team in a way. We really pull together and produce something really special and meaningful as a group of men,” he said. “That’s not to take anything away from a group of women or a mixed choir or a children’s choir, but being a men’s choir, we know that we are unique.”
The majority of Newman Sound members also the share the common thread of not being trained singers, and that means they’re all on the same page when it comes to learning music and producing their sound. At that level, Chafe said, age doesn’t matter: the youngest member in the choir, age 17, can easily have meaningful conversations with the older member, who’s in his early 50s. It’s a musically and socially unique group, he said.
Newman Sound’s win at the World Choir Games came behind a first notable win here at home. In October 2011, Newman Sound was presented with the MusicNL award for Classical Artist of the Year for its debut record, “The Green and Salty Days.” The choir had commissioned local artist Michael Fantuz to create a painting for the cover of the album, and commissioned two Newfoundland and Labrador composers to write for it. The record is a collection of folk songs from around the province and the world, and also earned Newman Sound a 2012 East Coast Music Award nomination.
A second CD is definitely on the choir’s radar, although Chafe expects it will be at least another year before they produce it. Given the theme of “The Green and Salty Days” and the material that won the choir their gold medals in Cincinnati, the next record will likely be more classically oriented, he said.
In the meantime, the choir will embark on its first-ever tour of the island at the end of June 2013, performing and conducting workshops with kids.
“This has always been our mandate, but now more than ever we want to encourage young boys and young men whose voices might be changing and who might feel awkward about their voices and so on to keep singing, and to offer them an avenue to sing,” Chafe said.
Tickets for “Remember” are $24 for adults and $18 for students and seniors, and are available in advance of the concert at The Travel Bug in the Avalon Mall and Fred’s Records on Duckworth Street. Admission for all veterans is free.
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