The Ensemble Laude women’s choir has reached a new level as it prepares to visit Vaison-la-Romaine in France for the nine-day Choralies festival.
Choralies is a unique and renowned choir festival that sees 5,000 singers and visitors flock to the ancient city from Aug. 3 to 12.
Before they go, Ensemble Laude will perform a pair of portions of their Choralies repertoire in a pre-tour concert called Flight, 7:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Mary’s Church (1701 Elgin Rd.) in Oak Bay and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Providence Farm Chapel (1843 Tzouhalem Rd.) in Duncan.
The concerts are part of the group’s ongoing fundraising campaign for the tour.
Artistic director Elizabeth MacIsaac, who founded the choir with 12 women in 1998, said it’s taken three years to make the trip to Choralies a reality. Thirty of the choir’s 50 women are making the trek, a choral pilgrimage to share ideas and songs through performance, as an audience, and through networking.
“It’s going to be a fabulous experience for the women in the choir, it really is a life-changing experience,” MacIsaac said. “The day is full of singing performances, and you eat, maybe have some wine, then go to another, then have some food, and at 11 p.m., when the performances are done, the town square comes to life with choirs wandering into the square to sing.”
Last year Ensemble Laude rose to fame in the Canadian choral community by taking second place in the women’s choir CBC Choral Competition.
Choirs at Choralies bring styles from all over the world, from contemporary to classic. Ensemble Laude continues to carry a medieval focus, which it blends with other styles. The medieval pieces include a processional, a 12th-century response and a setting of a medieval song, something that comes from their imagination.
“What we have passed on to us comes without rehearsal instructions so we have what we rehearse in a fashion similar to what they might have done,” MacIsaac said.
To perform the medieval works, Ensemble Laude breaks into smaller groups, as the pieces were originally designed for 10 or less people.
“For example, the Gregorian chants [we know today] were originally sung by only a few monks at the front of the choir… only later did the choir engage,” MacIsaac said.
To get the most of their visit a great many members of the choir have been studying French as a group.
Part of the charm is that the villagers of Vaison-La-Romain completely accept all 10 days of choir singing, said MacIsaac, who’s been to Choralies three times.
“Performances are held in old churches, the town square and in the Roman amphitheatre,” she said.
A resident of Saanich’s Christmas Hill neighbourhood, MacIsaac oversaw the growth of the Ensemble Laude choir. She managed to stay on in recent years despite leaving her music position at Brentwood College to engage in a doctorate of choral conducting at the University of Washington in Seattle.
The choir arrives in Nice at the end of July, and will perform the Flight program at the 12th century-built Cathedral Saint Sauveur in Aix-en-Provence. That’s ahead of Ensemble Laude’s three performances during Choralies.
They’ll also perform at the Eglise St. Pierre d’Arène in Nice and the Cathedral of St Saveur in Aix-en-Provence.
Ensemble Laude regularly rehearses at Lutheran Church of the Cross on Cedar Hill Road and, in a build up for Choralies, has been using a space at South Park elementary school in James Bay, where Ensemble Laude assistant director Carolyn Howe teaches music.
For more information visit ensemblelaude.org.