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In praise of choral music: Quebec singers explain their passion

CBC Quebec asked several choir singers to tell us what inspires and motivates them.

CBC Quebec profiled several choir performers and directors singers during one of the busiest times of the year

The Dal Segno vocal ensemble of Quebec City in rehearsal under the direction of Guillaume St-Gelais, centre. (Kim Garritty/CBC)

They spend hours in rehearsals, learning the music and fine-tuning their voices. They make their way to churches, music rooms and auditoriums on busy weeknights and weekends when they could be rushing around for the holidays or relaxing at home.

They do it because they love to make music with their voices with a community of people who share the same passion.

There are hundreds of choirs in this province. In the lead-up to the holiday season, CBC Quebec asked several choir singers to tell us what inspires and motivates them. Here are a few of their stories.

Creating something beautiful

Katharina Urbschat at rehearsal for Dal Segno, inside the chapel at the Musée de l’Amérique francophone in Old Quebec. (Kim Garritty/CBC)

Katharina Urbschat of Quebec City joined her first choir when she was 14 years old and living in Germany. Her mother had encouraged her to join and she never looked back.

"From that day, I was hooked because I really just loved the way the sounds come together," she said.

Urbschat described choir music as a "meeting of voices." Adding those voices together is "the creation of something beautiful," she said.

She founded the choral group, Voix Vivantes, and she also sings with Dal Segno, an ensemble that performed classical and traditional music by Mendelssohn, Rütti, Rutter and Sirett, among others, at the Chapelle du Musée de l'Amérique francophone in December.

Between the two groups, she spends about eight hours a week in rehearsals at the height of the season.

Aside from the occasional fatigue from standing for many hours, Urbschat says it is never exhausting.

She likens choir to going for a walk or a swim. "You feel a pleasant type of tiredness, but it's never a strain."

Urbschat says singing also gives back to those in the choir.

"If you know your piece and you know your music and everybody does, at some point you really, just totally lose yourself in the music."

Urbschat also believes that singing together creates community.

"People bond a lot over singing, even if they don't speak with each other, even if they don't even talk or don't have a beer after the rehearsal," she said.

"But as soon as you're back in that precise group with these singers creating that sound and those songs, you are home in a way."

Good for the body, mind, and soul

Shirley Nadeau says she feels a sense of community when she is around people who love to sing. (Submittied by Shirley Nadeau)

Shirley Nadeau is a member of the choir of the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec (OSQ), which recently performed a big concert of Hollywood score music in December after another major concert in November.

"If you could only see my agenda. You know it's rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal, and then concert, concert, you know five to six days in a row, intensive Saturday rehearsals," she said.

"You know, the only downtime I really get from this kind of singing is during the summer if I don't go to the Domaine Forget. But there's always church choir, and that's every Sunday."

Nadeau began singing as a child — both her mother and two grandmothers sang in church choirs, so it kind of runs in the family, she explained.

Nadeau was also involved in theatre at a young age. Named after Shirley Temple, she said she has always been a performer.

"I guess I'm just a ham at heart."

This photo taken circa 1955 shows a young Shirley Nadeau in the middle row, fifth from left.

But she also has a deep faith connection and enjoys performing some of the well-known requiem masses.

Nadeau said there is also a sense of community when she is around people who love to sing.

"It's a team effort to produce a beautiful piece of music in harmony, and it's sort of a physical effort too."

Like many other singers in Quebec City, Nadeau has participated at various times in more than one choir in the community. She said singing is good for the body, the mind and the soul.

"Just the breathing alone. It's like a massage for the entire body when you're standing there singing."

Something greater than themselves

David Rompré directs rehearsal with the vocal ensemble Les Rhapsodes at Quebec High School. (Thomas Cobbett Labonté/CBC)

David Rompré is synonymous with choirs in Quebec City. He is the director of the OSQ choir, as well as Les Rhapsodes. He is also the music teacher at Quebec High School (QHS).

His schedule, he says, is "a little bit crazy."

He leaves home at 7:15 a.m. to make sure the music room is open for students at 8. Rompré said he leaves school between 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. each day and shares supper with his family, a "sacred time."

Rehearsals are three times a week and some weekends. Rompré's wife is also a singer and has teaching and practices throughout the week.

"It's a busy life. But so stimulating and motivating and we're all musicians in my family, so everybody contributes and it's a beautiful kind of dynamic that we that we have," he said.

"A lot of people sing in choirs in Quebec City, so they already like the choral discipline of people joining their voices together and producing a result that's greater than themselves. It's absolutely amazing."

Official photo of the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec. Shirley Nadeau is on the far left of the stairs, seventh row from the bottom. David Rompré, the director of the OSQ choir is on the bottom row, furthest to the right. (OSQ)

Rompré studied voice and lived in Europe where he continued his studies. When he returned, he transitioned to teaching at Quebec High School, a position he's held for 22 years.

He still sings occasionally, but his forté is teaching and directing. He is still a central figure in the choir scene of Quebec City.

"You have 40 people here that have decided Thursday night is an important day for them, they join together, they sing together and it makes it a beautiful reflection of our community."

With files from Thomas Cobbett Labonté, Kim Garritty and Spencer Van Dyk

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