SLAVA chamber choir returning to its roots
This coming Sunday, September 17, the SLAVA Chamber Choir will be bringing “Treasures of Slavic Chant” to the St-sébastien-de-frontenac Church just north of Lac Mégantic. The choir, which focuses on music from Russia and other countries with Slavic languages, dates back to 2013 when the group’s founder, Maria Bandrauk, was inspired by her work as a Russian language coach for the choir at the University of Sherbrooke.
“We were singing Prince Igor opera excerpts for the twentieth anniversary of the university of Sherbrooke choir and since I am of Russian heritage I was asked to be the linguistic coach,” Bandrauk said. “During the rehearsals I was called upon often. The students noticed that and they were intrigued.”
The choir founder said that she was approached by several voice students afterward, each of whom said that they would like to sing more Russian music.
“Russian music has this very universal appeal,” Bandrauk said, adding that the language is the fifth most important language for those studying classical vocal repertoire. “It is very melodic; it is very sentimental, often melancholy and nostalgic.”
Inspired by that interest and drawing on her own background singing traditional sacred music and folk music in Russian, Bandrauk went to work assembling the group that became the SLAVA Chamber Choir from a choice group of U de S and Bishop’s University students.
“I was ready for a choir and this was an incentive,” she said, explaining that the group had its first performance, an Easter concert, in North Hatley in 2013.
Natalie Demmon, now an upper-level music and theatre student at Bishop’s University, was approached about joining the choir in her freshman year.
“I was approached as a first year student at Bishop’s with the opportunity to participate in (Bandrauk’s) choir,” said Demmon, a native of Alberta. “I had never sung Russian. I did a little bit of Russian history passively in high school and I love Russian music itself as a music student but it’s a very different sound and a very interesting experience to be a part of a choir for it.”
The singer said that it was quite a flattering and surprising experience for her to be approached so soon after coming to the area.
“I had only just begun and was assigned to Gail Desmarais as my voice teacher,” Demmon said. “There’s this idea that people who study with Gail don’t just goof around.”
Demmon explained that while she was not the first student to be approached, the reputation of Richmondbased Desmarais was enough to prompt Bandrauk to reach out without ever having heard her sing.
“I took the experience very seriously,” the student said.
Demmon clarified that she has not been consistently involved with SLAVA since 2013, as the requirements of her schooling took precedence over the group. Having returned to the choir this past year, however, the singer said that the concert Sunday is a bit of an exciting look back at the beginning for her.
“I had originally sung a concert back in 2013 at Lac Mégantic,” Demmon shared, “that one was done with the proceeds going to the families of the victims of Lac Mégantic.”
That concert, which also took place in the St-sébastien-de-frontenac Church, raised $4,000 thanks to a sold-out audience.
The upcoming concert is also a fundraiser, although this time the proceeds will go toward the upkeep of the church itself. Looking to the programming, Demmon said that it provides a mix of sacred and folk music in two halves. Where the choir of roughly 20 members will sing unaccompanied in the first half, they will be joined by virtuoso folk accordionist Vladimir Sidorov for the folk section.
“It just adds a whole other vibe,” she said, calling the folk half, “very festive.”
“Every one of the singers will have a solo moment,” Bandrauk said, noting that she carefully picked each voice in the group and likes to see the various talents highlighted in performances.
Since its founding the SLAVA Chamber Choir has performed eight concerts for over 3,000 people across Quebec and in Ottawa. Although Bandrauk maintains a close connection to the group and continues to provide vocal coaching, the choir has been under the direction of a professional conductor, Eun Jung Park, since September of 2016.
“Treasures of Slavic Chant,” will be taking place at the St-sébastien-de-frontenac Church at 280 Rue de la Fabrique in Saint-sébastien-de-frontenac, Québec on Sunday, September 17, starting at 2 p.m. More information about the concert is available by calling 819-569-7315, 819-652-2811, or by emailing email@example.com.
The SLAVA chamber choir.