Times may change but the melodies – and harmonies – linger on.
The First Capital Chorus – a Langley-based ‘barbershop harmony’ group with a traditionally strong base of members and supporters on the Semiahmoo Peninsula – is marking Remembrance Day with its customary concert at St. Mark’s Anglican Church.
But – as produced and devised by long-time chorus member and soloist Denny O’Donovan – the new show, Moments To Remember, will offer a fresh, generation-spanning, meditation on Canada’s past experiences of war and its enduring commitment to peace.
The show, presented Saturday, Nov. 10 in a 2 p.m. matinee and 7 p.m. evening performance at the church (12953 20 Ave.), is an appropriately new-look program for a new-look chorus that – once a males-only enclave – is now, officially, accepting women into its ranks.
The show draws liberally on a wide variety of songs; not just popular hits from the First and Second World wars, but also newer material, ranging from the title tune – a four-part harmony staple from the 1950s – to the moving Bring Him Home from the modern stage classic, Les Miserables.
“People want to hear the old songs – that’s what Remembrance Day is to them,” O’Donovan said, noting that many older and less mobile members of the audience tend to choose being bused to the First Capital show these days, rather than enduring the rigors of attending ceremonies at the local cenotaphs.
“But what I wanted to do was change it up – keeping a lot of the same songs, but changing the feel of the show so that it’s more relatable,” he said. “That’s why some of the numbers – including a medley of World War One songs like Pack Up Your Troubles, Tipperary and Keep the Home Fires Burning – are sing-alongs. I wanted to make the audience part of the show.”
As O’Donovan also noted, this is the 100th anniversary of the end of ‘The War To End All Wars’ – as the 1914-1918 conflict was known until the Second World War came along in 1939.
The inevitable passage of time means the generation that lived through the First World War is now gone, and the generation with direct memories of the Second World War years is dwindling – but the determination to remember and honour the sacrifices of the past is not diminished.
That determination – even among much younger generations – is typified by one of the guest acts in the show, the all female harmony group Affinity 4.
While all the members are still only in their teens, they are already seasoned performers from working with Perry Ehrlich’s musical theatre-oriented Showstoppers show choir (including shows with Eric Church at Rogers Arena and Foreigner at the PNE) and as cast members of the Bring On Tomorrow production of 13, The Musical last year.
The a capella group – Julia MacLean, Taylor McKee, Kyra Leroux and Adanna Avon (filling in for regular member Emma Ciprian) – describes itself as “influenced by a multitude of female artists, including Sara Bareilles, Joni Mitchell, and Adele, and sings everything from the Andrews Sisters, to four-part acapella tunes, and well-known pop songs.”
It’s the Andrews Sisters area of their repertoire – and their infectiously engaging camaraderie – that will be spotlighted in the upcoming show, O’Donovan said, including the Second World War favourites Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree.
The group was suggested to him by his son – well-known vocalist, pianist and theatre musical director Kerry O’ Donovan – he said.
“I was looking around for a guest quartet and mentioned something to Kerry,” he said. “He told me he knew this group of girls who were young but very good singers. I thought we needed a breath of fresh air and they were delighted to be asked to be a part of this show.”
Adding to the varied musical colours of Moments To Remember – M.C.’ed by B.C. Junior Hockey league commissioner and former sports broadcaster Chris Hebb – will be the trio Mainstream (Gregg Smith, Boris Krasovec and Roger Laviolette) and their rendition of Now Is The Hour and the Strings of Hope (Nick Klassen, violin, and Edward Sawatzky, guitar) with their version of the emotionally-stirring theme Ashokan Farewell.
And veteran barbershop quartet Synchromesh (Leigh Anderson, Gord Harris, Bill Findlay and Mike Wilcox) will also add their experienced, smooth harmony approach to the blend.
But, of course, the heart of the show will still be the chorus itself – which has also not been immune to changes, according to secretary Derek Sanft, in an era when shrinking membership has become a fact of life for barbershop groups.
In its 80th anniversary year, parent group the international Barbershop Harmony Society – which traces its roots back to the original Barbershop Society founded in Tulsa, Okla. in 1938 – has made the historic decision to officially welcome women singers into the fold as fully-fledged members.
But First Capital Chorus, founded in 1970, had already been – albeit informally – a mixed chorus for more than a decade, even without the sanction of the BHS, Sanft pointed out.
Early this year the FCC decided to formalize it, with the addition to the on-stage ranks of former associate-members Barb Bourbonais (daughter of late long-time member John West) and Heather Mills.
“We have been in the planning stages to make this really happen,” Sanft said.
“We just can’t throw six ‘female tenors’ into the chorus mix and say we’re a mixed group,” he added.
“While maintaining basic barbershop roots, adding female voices into the male chorus will require changes for all – voice auditions, changing some four-part voicings, different new songs, different mixed arrangements of old songs, new mixed-music directors to teach and no doubt many things and dynamics we don’t even know about yet,” he said.
“Our process and our future for everyone will be about a commitment to harmony, equality and friendship that we have enjoyed as a family for the last 50 years.”
Tickets to Moments To Remember ($20, or $15 per ticket for groups of 10 or more) are available at Pelican Rouge Cafe at Central Plaza and Ocean Park Village Pizza and Pub, or can be reserved by calling O’Donovan at 604-536-7983.