Montreal Gazette - - EXTRA -

Last Satur­day morn­ing, he was at the Mai­son sym­phonique re­hears­ing with Le choeur des je­unes de Laval for Noël sym­phonique, in which they and the Orchestre sym­phonique de Longueuil would be back­ing an ar­ray of Que­bec stars singing sea­sonal favourites later that day. At the same time his two chil­dren’s choirs were work­ing with re­hearsal di­rec­tors in Laval. Among them was Éti­enne Gagné, 14, who ap­pre­ci­ates the wide range of sounds the choir ex­poses him to. “We don’t just do one kind of mu­sic,” he said. “We do pop and clas­si­cal, we see a lot of dif­fer­ent uni­verses. When we do things that are pop, we dance and move, and we know the songs. Clas­si­cal is fun, too; I don’t know how to ex­plain it — it’s more flam­boy­ant, you could say, there are ac­cents.” His school friends who aren’t in choirs don’t quite get the ap­peal, he ad­mit­ted. “They find it strange.” But that doesn’t de­ter Gagné. Singing with Les pe­tits chanteurs de Laval is ev­ery­thing he hoped for, and more. “I think it’s even bet­ter than I ex­pected (when I started),” he said. “I didn’t know how we would learn all the songs. It takes a lot of work, but when the re­sult is good, it’s fun.” The choirs of Les pe­tits chanteurs de Laval have par­tic­i­pated in mul­ti­ple events in re­cent weeks, all lead­ing up to the Dec. 16 concert at Mai­son sym­phonique. A re­cent visit to a Wed­nes­day evening re­hearsal of the youn­gadult choir re­vealed Os­tiguy to be a brisk re­hearsal leader, who leads by ex­am­ple in terms of the en­ergy he brings to his work. He played key­board as he con­ducted, singing along, stop­ping fre­quently and speak­ing with rapid-fire pre­ci­sion as he made cor­rec­tions or high­lighted nu­ances, then picked up where he left off. “Peo­ple come here on a vol­un­teer ba­sis,” he said, sit­ting in his of­fice across the hall, the fol­low­ing day. “There’s no rea­son to come ex­cept, ‘Is it in­ter­est­ing?’ Why is it in­ter­est­ing? There’s the reper­toire, but at a cer­tain level there’s also a pride, and a joy that comes with that. “It’s a frag­ile bal­ance be­tween rigour and plea­sure. Too much plea­sure and it’s chaotic; too much rigour and it’s dry, aus­tere, dead. You have to find the bal­ance be­tween those two poles.” He pointed to the wide va­ri­ety of ma­te­rial per­formed by his choirs each year, from clas­si­cal clas­sics to cus­tom-made med­leys from the pop world, com­plete with elab­o­rate dance rou­tines that make up the choirs’ an­nual re­vue, each spring. “If we did ex­clu­sively clas­si­cal or sa­cred mu­sic, we would lose some kids,” Os­tiguy said. “And the op­po­site is true, too. If we did only pop songs, we would lose kids who are ca­pa­ble of more. Not to den­i­grate one or the other — the two can co­ex­ist. But the plea­sure in each is dif­fer­ent.” The great­est plea­sure comes from a job well done, he in­sists, what­ever his charges are singing. “Qual­ity is a con­stant con­cern. It’s one thing to get to a cer­tain level; it’s an­other to main­tain it all the time, and to re­tain stan­dards. I’m very de­mand­ing in terms of the stan­dards we reach. “I al­ways say to the kids, ‘No mat­ter where we per­form, give to the best of your ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and rep­re­sent the choirs well — whether it’s on tour, at a cor­po­rate event, a big show for the Fête Na­tionale or with the Orchestre sym­phonique de Laval, or a kid do­ing a solo with the Opéra de Mon­tréal.’ ” Camille Ché­nard, 16, doesn’t have the stereo­typ­i­cal choir­girl look. Sport­ing a buzz cut and dressed all in black, the Grade 11 stu­dent has a dis­tinctly al­ter­na­tive style. “Of­ten when I say I’m in a choir, peo­ple are like, ‘This girl is in a choir? Some­thing doesn’t click,’ ” she said. “When I in­vite my friends to see my choir show at the end of the year, they don’t ex­pect to see us dance to Michael Jack­son. “All to say, it’s not what you think — it’s so much more en­joy­able and fun.” Ché­nard spoke en­thu­si­as­ti­cally about all the places she has vis­ited with the choir — Aus­tria, Czech Repub­lic, Slo­vakia, Slove­nia, Croa­tia, Den­mark, Ger­many, Bel­gium — and of all the peo­ple she has met, and other choirs she has heard along the way. “It’s such an en­rich­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” she said, “as much for the friend­ships as for the mu­si­cal knowl­edge you de­velop. “Choir gave me a gen­eral cul­ture of mu­sic, artists and songs, and also helped re­fine my vo­cal tech­nique. I love it.” The St-Eus­tache res­i­dent will study graphic de­sign at CÉGEP next year, but she in­tends to con­tinue singing with Le choeur des je­unes de Laval. And what about af­ter that? What will she and the other singers do when they be­come too old for Le choeur des je­unes de Laval? For Savard-Grat­ton and Hardy, who were part of the in­au­gu­ral group that formed the young-adult choir in its first year, it’s a loom­ing ques­tion. Of­fi­cially, the en­sem­ble’s up­per age limit is 27; it used to be 25. “They keep raising it ac­cord­ing to the old­est mem­ber,” Savard-Grat­ton said. “For sure, I’ll come back un­til I can’t any­more. It’s hard to leave. “I imag­ine we’ll try to launch an adult choir, to con­tinue mak­ing mu­sic. “We’re trained singers — it’s our in­stru­ment. It’s my way to con­tinue mak­ing mu­sic. It’s hard to imag­ine a life out­side Les pe­tits chanteurs de Laval.” Gagné has al­ready started an off­shoot: an all-male quar­tet called Qu­atuor de la 5e, a ref­er­ence to the street on which the choir’s head­quar­ters is lo­cated. The group gets booked reg­u­larly for events. But he too has a hard time imag­in­ing a day when he won’t be part of the or­ga­ni­za­tion that formed him as a singer, and a per­son. “It has made me who I am,” he said, “and how I am. “It’s part of me now.”

Jerry Huang, front and cen­tre, re­hearses with other mem­bers of the chil­dren’s choirs. Bud­ding singers can only join Les pe­tits chanteurs de Laval be­tween ages 8 to 10, en­sur­ing a strong group dy­namic in which chil­dren start at the same level and evolve as a unit.

Anne-Marie Saint-Jac­ques leads the chil­dren through their song reper­toire in re­hearsal.

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