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.