Val­our and loss fuse in Chor Leoni’s “Vimy Ridge”

The Georgia Straight - - Arts - BY DI­RECTED BY PRO­DUCED BY

> BY ALEXAN­DER VARTY

It’s a nat­u­ral enough im­pulse: you’re a stu­dent in Paris, and you run into some of your fel­low Cana­di­ans, and then on a free week­end you find your­self driv­ing out to Nord-pas-de-calais to tour Vimy Ridge, the site of one of the First World War’s most de­ci­sive bat­tles.

The fight for Vimy Ridge found Cana­dian forces rout­ing an army of Ger­man oc­cu­piers at a cost of 3,598 Cana­dian lives. Mil­i­tary his­to­ri­ans gen­er­ally cite the bat­tle as a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in the de­vel­op­ment of Canada’s na­tional iden­tity.

But for Lizzie Hoyt, one of those Cana­dian stu­dents, stand­ing in the shadow of Wal­ter Sey­mour All­ward’s sculp­tural memo­rial only gave rise to ques­tions. What if? What if you had lived back then, and your hus­band, lover, or brother had died in the trenches? How would loss have coloured your life?

Those ques­tions even­tu­ally gave rise to a song, “Vimy Ridge”, which in turn be­came the Win­nipeg folk mu­si­cian’s most re­quested com­po­si­tion. She’s sung it at Re­mem­brance Day cer­e­monies and on Vimy Ridge on the 95th an­niver­sary of the bat­tle.

“We had an amaz­ing day there,” Hoyt re­calls, in a tele­phone in­ter­view from her home. “You can walk through the trenches that they main­tain, the tun­nels un­der­ground. And al­though it’s hard, some­times, to put your fin­ger on ex­actly what in­spires you, but def­i­nitely just be­ing there, see­ing the land still un­du­lat­ing be­cause of all the ex­plo­sions that had been there.”

“Vimy Ridge” so per­fectly mar­ries val­our and loss that when Chor Leoni artis­tic di­rec­tor Erick Lichte first heard it, he knew that he would have to add it to the all-male choir’s up­com­ing Re­mem­brance Day shows. And once that was set­tled, he turned to choir mem­ber, gui­tarist, and No Is­land band­leader Keith Sin­clair for an ar­range­ment to turn one woman’s view into a more uni­ver­sal lament.

“I’d never heard the song be­fore, but I was cap­ti­vated im­me­di­ately,” Sin­clair says in a sep­a­rate tele­phone in­ter­view. So cap­ti­vated, in fact, that he’s done his best to stay true to Hoyt’s ver­sion—given that he’s had to turn one woman with a band into some­thing suit­able for 50 men, ac­com­pa­nied by acous­tic gui­tar, to sing.

“The hard­est part, for me, was fig­ur­ing out what key to put it in,” Sin­clair ex­plains. “And on Lizzy’s record­ing, there are a few dif­fer­ent in­stru­ments that we don’t have the lux­ury of hav­ing for this per­for­mance, so we kind of mimic some of that with the choir.

“What’s most im­por­tant, though, is that I re­ally want the words to be heard,” he con­tin­ues. “It’s not about show­ing off, not about ‘Oh, here’s how low our basses can sing, and aren’t our tenors pretty singers?’ There’s a time and a place for that, but it’s re­ally about telling the story.”

Hoyt, for one, is pleased with how her story will be told. “I love to ar­range, my­self, so it’s pretty cool as a song­writer to get to hear what an­other ar­ranger does with one of your cre­ations,” she says. “And I thought it was beau­ti­ful.”

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