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St-Lambert choral society

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History

A Brief History of the Saint-Lambert Choral Society

This year, the Saint-Lambert Choral Society (SLCS) celebrates its 95th anniversary. It holds the record as the oldest community choir in Quebec and the second oldest in Canada. Throughout its long history, from fairly modest beginnings, when the town of Saint-Lambert itself was first being established, through various incarnations, both great and small, until today, the Choral Society has left its mark on Saint-Lambert.

1891-1913

Between 1891 and 1913, the Saint-Lambert Choral Society existed under its current name. On Friday evenings, the Society presented classical concerts at the Boat Club House and Academy Hall. . Some of these concerts were benefits for the growing town of Saint-Lambert; a notable example was to raise funds for the construction of the Presbyterian Church.

photo1Programme cover for the first recorded concert given by the Saint-Lambert Choral Society in 1891

In 1907, the SLCS had about 50 choristers. Around 1913, as the opera became more popular, membership declined.

During this time in Saint-Lambert…
Madame Bertha Belasco Burland, a notable figure in Saint-Lambert society, founded the Tuesday Musical Club (1907–1964). The Club presented concerts of sacred, classical, instrumental, and other types of music, and would occasionally include choral singing. The Tuesday Morning Club dominated the classical music scene of its day. Mr. J.T.R. Hicks, active in both groups, was the Musical Director of the SLCS in 1903, 1904, and 1907; moreover, in 1905, he created a fanfare, the Saint-Lambert Band, and directed the Junior Choral of the Tuesday Musical Club from 1907 to 1924.

1919-1960

Around 1916, the Tuesday Musical Club’s Choral Committee decided that choral music would form the heart of their repertoire. Three years later, in 1919, the ever-creative Mrs. Belasco Beland founded the Saint-Lambert Amateur Operatic Society. Around 1952, the word ’Amateur’ was dropped from the name because of the ensemble’s superior quality. This group represents the SLCS at its most lavish.

Each year, the Society would present an opera, operetta, or musical comedy. The repertoire consisted largely of works by Gilbert and Sullivan, such as The Gondoliers, The Yeomen of the Guard, The Pirates of Penzance, Mikado, Iolanthe, Patience,and H.M.S. Pinafore. Costumes for these productions were sumptuous and the sets elaborate. Performances generally took place Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 8:15 p.m. at one of several Saint-Lambert venues, especially Town Hall, Saint-Michael’s Hall, the Saint-Lambert High School Auditorium, or the Chambly County High School Auditorium. The Saint-Lambert Operatic Society also performed in Montréal at the Chalet in Mount Royal Park and at Théâtre Saint-Denis.
           
photo2Programme cover of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Ruddigore, performed March 9 – 12, 1938, at the Saint-Lambert High School Auditorium.

The Society had three objectives: to spread the knowledge and appreciation of music, to promote local talent, and to raise funds for charitable works. Concerts were given in part for the benefit of the Saint-Lambert’s Soldiers’ Memorial, the Kiwanis Club of Montréal, and the Lions Club of Saint-Lambert.
 
By 1960, as production costs became increasingly prohibitive, the Society decided to abandon its costly sets and decors, and concentrate solely on choral music.

During this time in Saint-Lambert…
In 1957, the Tuesday Musical Club subsidized the first Saint-Lambert Music Festival for the town’s centennial. It was  Quebec’s first bilingual music competition. The festival was made possible with financial support from the Town of Saint-Lambert, the Quebec Minister of Cultural Affairs, local merchants, private gifts, and donations from associations, schools, and churches, as well as the work of a large team of volunteers; the festival would  eventually become an annual event.

1960-2014

In the 1960s, the chorale began to move toward a more classical repertoire, consisting largely of masses and oratorios. In 1971, the Saint-Lambert Choral Society reverted back to its original name. Over the years, it had been led by a number of choirmasters, including Dr Percy Illsley (1920-1925), M. H. Norris (1931-1941), Mr. Jerry Shea (1946-1954), Mr. Eric Adams (1958-1963), Mr. Richard McGlaughlin (1964-1969), and, last but not least, the current Artistic Director and choirmaster, David Christiani, since 1978. 

Title page of Claude Gingras’ glowing review in La Presse of the Saint-Lambert Choral Society’s concert on March 12, 1988. The program consisted of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem and John Rutter’s Requiem.
                       
photo3

During this time in Saint-Lambert…
In 1970, a new musical tradition took root. Mrs. Edith Strathdee, organist and choir director at the United Church of Saint-Lambert, createdThe Gift of Music, an annual concert  presented by assembled choirs of several Saint-Lambert churches. Each December, the concert raises money and donations for Christmas baskets to be distributed to the poor of the various church parishes. The SLCS took part from the very beginning. Owing to rising costs and declining participation, the last Saint-Lambert Music Festival, first created in 1957, took place only in 1979.

Over the course of its long existence, the Saint-Lambert Choral Society has treated its choristers and the public to an eclectic choral repertoire, supported by a loyal, subscriber-based audience. Today, in 2014, the Choral Society is still firmly anchored in Saint-Lambert’s and the South Shore’s cultural milieu, receiving generous support from local institutions and businesses; in turn, the chorale gives support back to community organizations. After all these years, the chorale continues to play a valuable role in enhancing Saint-Lambert’s quality of life.

David Christiani - Artistic Director and Choirmaster of the Saint-Lambert Choral Society for 35 years, from 1979 to present

Music Studies

David Christiani began his music education in Toronto, achieving a Bachelor of Music with Honours from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music. He then pursued
graduate studies in the United States, where he earned a Masters in Choral Direction, summa cum laude, at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas. He has worked with such great conductors as Elmer Iseler, Seiji Ozawa, Karel Ancerl, Wayne Riddell, and the American conductor Robert Shaw, as well as celebrated British choral director David Willcocks and legendary German conductor Hellmut Rilling. In 1982, he won a Canada Council grant to take part in a Bach Symposium in Stuttgart, Germany, with Rilling.

Professional Experience

Christiani’s passion for choral singing predates his career as a choral conductor. As a young man, he sang in the prestigious Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and toured Europe with the Festival Singers of Canada. He sang for six years with the Tudor Singers of Montréal and the Toronto Symphony Choir, as well as the Montréal Symphony Orchestra Chorus. He is a long-time choir member of Montréal’s Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul.

For twenty-four years, he was a music instructor at The Study in Montréal.

He began directing the Saint-Lambert Choral Society in September 1978. At the beginning of 1987, and for several years he was Artistic Director of Ottawa’s  Canadian Centennial Choir. In 2008, Christiani was instrumental in launching the Liette-Turner Foundation and was appointed as the Foundation’s Director-General, guiding it in its ongoing mission to support the musical development of young singers in Quebec and to promote the performance of choral music in the province.

Awards

In 1975, Christiani received one of the first Leslie Bell Scholarships, which he used to complete his Masters in Choral Direction. On August 17, 2000, he received a Grand Lambertois Award from the City of Saint-Lambert, in recognition of his 22-year contribution to civic life as Director of the Choral Society. In 2009, the Choral Society, under his direction, received the first grant awarded by the Liette-Turner Foundation.

As Artistic Director of the SLCS

Since he took over the podium 35 years ago, Christiani began creating an eclectic repertoire for the SLCS, drawing on baroque, classical, romantic, and contemporary works, spirituals, folk songs, and Christmas music. He instituted the tradition of three concerts per year, allowing the Choral Society to create a subscription-based season.

He exposed the choir to new talent by inviting distinguished guest directors, as well as various orchestral ensembles and soloists, to perform with the choir. The choir has sung under the celebrated batons of Elmer Iseler, Wayne Riddell, and Alexander Brott. It has been accompanied by I Musici Chamber Orchestra of Montréal, McGill Chamber Orchestra, Longueuil Symphony Orchestra, as well as musicians from the Montréal Symphony Orchestra and the Metropolitan Orchestra. A number of concerts have been in collaboration with other choirs, particularly with childrens’ choirs, such as the South Shore Children’s Chorus, for its annual Christmas concert.

The SLCS has performed in Montréal, Ottawa, Sherbrooke, Valleyfield, Joliette, and Iberville, and has participated in the ChaNteauguay and Lanaudière music festivals. The choir has been heard on CBC Radio’s French and English-language networks. These activities all bear witness to a time of great growth for the choir; between 1986 and 1990, under Christiani’s visionary leadership, the choir counted more than one hundred members.

The SLCS has created some important musical “firsts” under Christiani’s baton including the Montréal premiere of John Rutter’s Requiem (1988) and the Longueuil premiere of Michel Massé’s Requiem (1993). The choir celebrated Saint-Lambert’s 125th anniversary celebrations with a rousing performance of George Frederick Handel’s Messiah in 1982.

His Community Engagement

David Christiani is a Saint Lambertan by choice. In 1978, he met a Saint-Lambert girl, Betty Jo Seath, who encouraged him to apply for the newly-vacant position as choirmaster of the Saint-Lambert Choir Society. Although his abilities as a singer, choral director, and orchestral director might have led him anywhere in the world, he followed his heart and got the job and the girl. In 1980, he and Betty-Jo got married and started a family in Saint-Lambert. Betty-Jo Christiani, a brilliant choral director in her own right, went on to create and direct the acclaimed South Shore Children's Choir for 30 years.

David Christiani has contributed more than just beautiful music to his community, although that would certainly be enough. Over the years, SLCS concerts have generated funds for charities like the Cystic Fibrosis Society, Relay for Life, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and raised money to provide grants for young South Shore singers to pursue their musical studies.

For 35 years, David Christiani has directed the SLCS with passion, energy, and an unflagging commitment. In keeping with the Choral Society’s original mandate, he always strives to encourage and broaden the public’s interest in choral music and consistently raises the bar for the choir by proposing choral works that challenge the choristers to surpass themselves.

 

Sources:
Album-Souvenir du centenaire de St-Lambert, 1857-1957
CHARTRAND-COPTI, Huguette (sous direction de), Saint-Lambert au fil des ans 1857-2007, Société d’histoire Mouillepied, p. 203-208
HINDESS, Mary, Sounds of Music in St. Lambert, Société d’histoire Mouillepied, cahier no 5, janvier 1987, p. 9-14.
SEATH C., CARRUTHERS E. et THORP F. (sous la direction de), Sixty years of Songs 1919-1979, Société chorale de St-Lambert, 1979. (version révisée au 75e anniversaire) Texte révisé par C. Stockdale, C. Poulton et K. David, 1919-1994, 75 ans pour l’amour de la musique.
SOCIÉTÉ D’HISTOIRE MOUILLEPIED, Cahier no 10, Longueuil, 2013, p. 12-17
Différents programmes de la SCSL et entrevues avec des membres.

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