It’s a Christmas choral tradition if there ever was one.
On the first weekend of Advent, the Elektra Women’s Choir launches its 31st season with Chez Nous: Christmas with Elektra. The group performs Dec. 3 in North Vancouver.
As always, artistic director Morna Edmundson has selected a mix of familiar Christmas carols and new works. This year’s show will include the world premiere of a suite of carol arrangements by Ottawa composer Laura Hawley, performed with accompanist Stephen Smith. Anchoring the program is Benjamin Britten’s 1942 A Ceremony of Carols – “one of the masterpieces for treble voices,” Edmundson says. Harpist Vivian Chen will accompany the choir for that piece.
Also joining Elektra for their season opener is the West Vancouver School District Women’s Honour Choir, which features young singers in grades 7 to 12 under the direction of Suzanne Fulton.
“And then we have two audience singalongs, which we always do,” Edmundson says, revealing this year’s selections as “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” and “Deck the Halls.”
Edmundson co-founded Elektra Women’s Choir with Diane Loomer in 1987. There are usually about 50 high-calibre singers in the choir at once (all volunteers) and they put on a three-concert season in which they premiere new works, explore existing repertoire, and invite guest artists to join them.
Edmundson says people who have never heard an all-women’s choir might assume the members all sound the same, or produce a shrill sound. But that’s simply not the case. She makes a point of seeking out repertoire that suits an all-female ensemble, or is written specifically for women.
“I’m always looking for a variety of textures just to keep it varied and keep it interesting,” she says. “We've been at this for 30 years so I really know what I'm listening for and what I’m looking for when I’m choosing repertoire.”
The Benjamin Britten piece is a favourite among choir members, and it’s one they come back to every few years. But they are also known for performing commissioned works.
“The fact that we're always bringing new repertoire to life in our concerts, including in Chez Nous, is really a trademark of Elektra. There's almost no Elektra concert that doesn't have a newly commissioned work in it, and particularly this year that's a big focus for us.”
Seeing the Elektra Women’s Choir is a holiday tradition for many people, and Edmundson has a good idea why audience members keep coming back year after year.
“I think they are glad to have taken the time to sit quietly and participate with other people in something beautiful. It sort of stops time. It's just a rich, thoughtful, uplifting experience.”
Chez Nous: Christmas With Elektra takes place Sunday, Dec. 3, 3 p.m. at Highlands United Church, 3255 Edgemont Blvd., North Vancouver. There is also a show Dec. 2, 7:30 p.m. at Dunbar Ryerson United Church in Vancouver. Tickets $35/$30/$15 at elektra.ca.