Sage Sound Singers musical director Michelle Reid (l) accepts a cheque from Second Time Around to help support this year’s Christmas concert, which will be broadcast online on Dec. 23. (Photo credit: Submitted)

Sage Sound Singers musical director Michelle Reid (l) accepts a cheque from Second Time Around to help support this year’s Christmas concert, which will be broadcast online on Dec. 23. (Photo credit: Submitted)

Sage Sound Singers returning with virtual Christmas concert

‘We need this’ says choir director of concert that almost didn’t happen

Not even eleventh hour health orders that put an early end to their rehearsals are preventing the Sage Sound Singers from presenting their annual Christmas concert, a tradition that stretches back more than a decade. It will still be going ahead, albeit with a different look to what was originally planned, and will be free for all to view starting Dec. 23.

“The theme is ‘A Sage Sound Singers Special Christmas’, because of the situation we’re in,” says choir founder, musical director, and conductor Michelle Reid. The plan was for the HUB Online Network to film the concert, which features works that the choir has performed in the past, with the full choir singing 11 pieces and smaller groups singing a further seven pieces.

Reid says that 18 former choir members started physically distanced rehearsals at the Ashcroft HUB in September, with smaller groups rehearsing on a separate day. She knew that because of COVID-19 they couldn’t have as many rehearsals as usual, but was hoping to get in 12 before the concert was scheduled to take place just before Christmas.

“It takes two to three years to perfect a piece, so we were limited on the time frame to get the songs polished. That’s why we brought back the old repertoire.”

The first rehearsal was on Sept. 21, and Reid says it was a very different picture this year.

“We followed all the COVID-19 protocols. Everyone was 10 feet apart, and the singers said they felt as if they were singing by themselves because they were so distant from each other. I told them it’s a good exercise because this way you can really hear yourself, and hear how you’re doing.”

The choir had not sung together since last fall’s “Tribute to Fiddler on the Roof” concert. “It was so nice to sing during the first rehearsal. It was very surreal for everyone, but the joy in their faces was unbelievable. I had shivers just listening to them sing. It was amazing. They were illuminated.”

Reid says the rehearsals were a bit more nerve-wracking than usual, but not because of the music.

“Every week was a challenge. It was an apprehensive rehearsal, not relaxed, but we needed to sing, we needed music. We followed all the protocols; we’d rehearse for 15 minutes and then take a break and put our masks on. We did our best, and no one got sick.”

Pianist Dimiter Terziev returned once again to accompany the singers, and Reid was very glad to have him back. “We can’t do it without him. He’s such a professional, and so dedicated and kind and devoted.”

The concert was to be recorded live in the home of choir members Marina Papais and Daniel Collett. Reid says the hope was to have enough time to get the pieces polished, since the choir was anxious to sing for everyone and present something.

Then, on Nov. 16 — more than a month before the scheduled performance — Reid could feel new provincial rules forbidding public get-togethers such as choir rehearsals closing in. She decided that they would record that evening’s rehearsal, meaning that they had eight hours to pull something together.

They had no decorations or set, and no costumes ready. “I told everyone this will be a redneck Christmas, and to dress like they were coming to a campfire singalong,” says Reid. “We had to scramble.”

As if that was not enough, the choir was hit by another challenge that day: a snowstorm. Two choir members coming from Kamloops and Clinton were unable to make it because of the snow, and Terziev was delayed coming up Savona Hill. “We had to wait 45 minutes for him, and when he arrived he was so frazzled. It was an awful night. We had lost four weeks of rehearsal, and we were all in panic mode.”

A few festive decorations were rustled up, and choir member Jim Mertel used his technical know-how to rig up equipment to record the concert. “We didn’t want to involve the HUB Online Network, because we had to move quickly and didn’t want to compromise anyone’s safety. We felt we couldn’t bring in outside people with equipment.”

Reid says frankly that while they could have used the extra four weeks of rehearsal, she’s really happy with the result.

“They’re pieces we’ve done before, but pieces we did three or four years ago. A lot of the choir don’t read music. It’s a community choir, and we’re amateurs. There was a lot of re-learning to do to have the performance ready, but we’re still giving a pretty good product.”

The choir had received funding from Second Time Around and the Village of Ashcroft in order to help make the concert a reality, and they were going to sell tickets online. However, Reid says that the concert is now free for anyone who wants to watch it starting on Dec. 23, when it premieres.

“We wanted to give something to the community. Gee whiz, we need this. Christmas is going to be extra special this year because of the memories we have, and thankfulness for what life is.”

To view the concert — which will debut at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 23 — register for free in advance at Detailed access instructions will be emailed by return upon registration.

Reid says there are plans to have another concert in spring 2021. “We’ll be open for anyone who wants to join and have that choir experience. We’re planning a Hoedown concert in the spring, and we’ll need some new singers for that.”

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