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Syrian refugee, 10, joins Atlantic Boychoir, finds new Newfoundland friends through music

Syrian-born Yaman Bai came to St. John’s with his family about six months ago. Since that time, he has been learning English, and is now a member of the Atlantic Boychoir.
Syrian-born Yaman Bai came to St. John’s with his family about six months ago. Since that time, he has been learning English, and is now a member of the Atlantic Boychoir. - Contributed photo

Yaman Bai, Atlantic Boychoir all in with CD recording, upcoming concert and several road trips to foreign shores

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

It has been a long journey to St. John’s for the newest member of the Atlantic Boychoir.

That member, Yaman Bai, was born in Aleppo, Syria, in May 2009.

Like many Syrians, he and his family were forced to leave the country because of the war that is still raging throughout the land.

The war got to be too much for his family, so his mother and father, two sisters and a brother packed their belongings and sought asylum in Erbil, Iraq, where they resided from November 2016 until they arrived in St. John's in March 2019.

“My family had to leave Syria because of the war,’’ he said through his mother, who acts as his interpreter while he attends school to learn English.

The Bais, who are here without their father and husband, moved into a neighbourhood filled with children, and one of those happened to be the son of Jakub Martinec, the choral director for the Atlantic Boychoir.

“My son and Yaman became friends and one day they were over at the house, he started to sing, and I thought, OK, this child may have potential,’’ Martinec said.

Atlantic Boychoir artistic director and principal conductor, Jakub Martinec. - Photo by Greg Locke
 Atlantic Boychoir artistic director and principal conductor, Jakub Martinec. - Photo by Greg Locke

“So I brought him over to the piano, started to play some notes and get him to sing. He showed potential.’’

Yaman was invited to be part of the choir.

“I want to meet other boys, my new friends and sing together with them,’’ he said.

“I learned Ave Verum Corpus by Mozart — it is very beautiful music. I also like Syrian songs. My favourite is on YouTube called 'Grendizer,'” he added.

The Atlantic Boychoir is busy this fall preparing for a CD recording session that will take place this month, a special concert called “Truce” in late November and several concert trips, including one to Australia as part of the Big Choral Festival in Brisbane and a spring tour that will see them go to London, Paris and Cornwall for performances.

“Truce" has become an annual event for the choir and will be held this year on Nov. 22.

Taking part in this year’s show as a return guest is Greg Malone, who will serve as narrator for the event. He will tell stories to accompany the songs of the choir.

Those songs have a historic significance, as the Allied soldiers and Germans called a truce on Dec. 24, 1914. Soldiers from both sides put down their weapons and stepped out of their trenches, and enemies met enemies between the trenches and, for a short time, there was peace.

The CD project will see them go to The Kirk, a place Martinec said is perfect for recording, as it has great acoustics and the organ is a real boost for what they are trying to capture.

This recording project will be completed this month and will be released at The Rooms in a special event set for Jan. 25, Martinec said.

“This will be an all-Mozart CD. We consider this to be really difficult music,’’ he said.

The newness of the music and different culture hasn’t hindered Yaman from learning the songs. He said it is easy to understand because "it is music."

The Atlantic Boychoir was founded by Martinec and his wife in 2016 and is the only choir of this type in Canada.

Members are selected from across the province, and it is a huge commitment for the boys and men, ranging in age from eight to 22, as they attend regional rehearsals. There are more than 120 members throughout the year.

The repertoire includes traditional and modern works of Canadian and international composers, famous classical compositions from all musical periods and large choral works, Newfoundland folk songs, contemporary music and choral arrangements of popular music.

The artistic director and principal conductor is Jakub Martinec, the Young Men Ensemble conductor, vocal coach and co-artistic founding director is Jennifer Beynon-Martinec, and the concert choir pianists are Jennifer Matthews and David Chafe.

The training boy choirs, Atlantic Puffins and Atlantic Pelicans, are directed by Lisa Drover (St. John’s), Linda Carr (Corner Brook, Pasadena), Michelle Rowe Bennett and Charlene Woolfrey Sawler (Clarenville).

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