Skip to content

Cross-border choirs to hit a milestone with this year’s performance

The Southeast Chorus, which boasts members from this corner of Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Chorus, which is comprised of members from northwest North Dakota, will come together for their 50th celebration of Christmas music.
The Northwest and the Southeast Chorus will gather together on both sides of the border for their celebration of Christmas music.

ESTEVAN — A musical tradition that dates back to the early 1970s is back this year, with performances happening on both sides of the border.

The Southeast Chorus, which boasts members from this corner of Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Chorus, which is comprised of members from northwest North Dakota, will come together for their 50th celebration of Christmas music.

Performances will be Dec. 3 at St. Paul’s United Church in Estevan at 7 p.m., and the following afternoon at Concordia Lutheran Church in Crosby at 4 p.m. This year’s theme is Where the Light Begins.

The golden anniversary edition of the concert was supposed to happen in 2020, but was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions and the associated limitations on cross-border travel.

It hasn’t been easy this year, either, with the ongoing reduced border crossing hours at the Port of Estevan. The Americans have been practising on Tuesdays, while the Canadians rehearse on Thursdays.

Shauna Meek, who will direct the concert along with Harlan Johnson, said the preparations have been going well but it’s certainly been different.

“We miss seeing each other,” said Meek. “We’ve already not been together for over two years, and part of being in the choir is the companionship that we share with the American citizens.”

A joint rehearsal was held in Crosby on Nov. 22, giving the Canadian and American singers a chance to see each other for the first time in nearly three years, and another rehearsal with everyone present will occur on Dec. 1 in Estevan.

“It actually sounded really nice. They’re really, really working well together with the different voices, and the people are pretty excited to be back together and singing,” said Meek.

There are approximately 35 members of the Southeast Chorus and around 25 for the Northwest Chorus. The youngest singer is 17 years old. The oldest performers are in their 90s.

Meek and Johnson said they weren’t sure if they were going to be able to perform together this year. When the rehearsals first started, there were border restrictions in place such as vaccination requirements, and the Arrive Can app was still required. So there is a sense of relief in being able to perform.

Meek noted Johnson came up several times from Crosby to the Estevan practice to sing and help the male vocalists, then had to drive the long way through the North Portal border crossing to get home. A few other American members have made the extended trek, too.

Johnson has been a part of the Northwest Chorus since 1985 and has been a director for many years. He’s also looking forward to bringing the concert to local music lovers for the first time since 2019. 

“It’s a lot more than singing together, it’s the friendships that you make for as long as you’re singing here. That means a lot to everyone in the choir as well.”

As a member for more than 35 years, he has been part of the chorus for most of its history. He knows that it was all Americans when it first started, but the Canadians have been there for most of its history. 

It started with the effort of Dr. Harold Woolfrey, a dentist and music lover who wanted to see Handel’s Messiah performed before Christmas.

“He just loved music, and he wanted to get it started. We took over from there. And it’s been fantastic ever since,” said Johnson.  

Typically the first half of the concert would feature a narrative associated with the theme, and the second half would be a variety of Christmas songs.

This year it will feature 10 songs. Most of them are past favourites selected by Johnson and accompanist Danielle Evenson. Meek said there are a couple of new pieces, such as a gospel rendition of Away in a Manger.

“Everyone in the chorus is telling us how much they enjoy singing the songs this year,” said Johnson.

There will not be the narrative portion of the concert.

A supper and birthday cake will be served after the Crosby concert, and Johnson said there will be special music and lots of special people this year.

The program might be shorter this year, but Meek said there won’t be a shortage of quality music.

“We weren’t really sure, when we started this adventure in September, if it was going to work out or not, and we’re really happy that it did,” said Meek.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks