Erin Linn McMullan
Special to the Westerly
Music has the power to lift our spirits as the memory of a long West Coast winter fades into sunshine.
One of the more jubilant rites celebrating spring is the third annual Tofino and Ucluelet choir concert, with an exciting new offshoot thanks to the addition of the teen choir.
Voices blossom around the audience as the choir envelops them in surround-sound, fanning out along three sides in elegant black punctuated by pink-hued rhododendron corsages, arranged by Christine Brice.
Penetrating the dramatically darkened auditorium with minimal lighting, their first song, “Bright Morning Star” telegraphs joy and warmth.
But it is the next number, “Luluvu Na Yaloqu Kau Tagi,” a traditional Fijian song describing unrequited love that forms the centrepiece and suggests unexpected delights to come.
Sophie L’Homme explains this is the first time this song, passed down through generations by ear, has been written down.
Performed in the Fijian—Malayo-Polynesian—language, it was suggested by tenor and accomplished soloist Filimoni Saininaivalu.
He sent L’Homme a recording of his own voice singing the entire harmony, albeit in a higher range.
“Funny thing, I didn’t know that not a single line would repeat: no chorus, only four different verses and a bridge.” She discovered this sitting down to the piano to transpose it to a lower range and record it into the software for sharing with the choir.
“Traditionally, most songs are stories that are adapted into song. These songs are sung during celebrations and are known as ‘sigidrigi’, loosely translated as singing and drinking (kava),” explains Saininaivalu. “They are taught by ear playing guitars and ukuleles…It’s heart-warming to have my fellow choir members open to learning a Fijian song as well as the language.”
Rhythm was key to arranging the spring program, which L’Homme says came together organically from R&B numbers, including Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change is Gonna Come,’ Michael Jackson’s ‘I’ll Be There,’ and Dvorak’s ‘River Road,’ composed in the early 1890s as part of his African-American influenced New World Symphony.
Janis McDougall discovered its resonant alternate lyrics describing the “river road going home to the sea”.
Stealing the show was 13-year-old James Matthew Elopre’s passionate solo of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Perfect,’ with harmony provided by the new teen choir.
Even the tiny girl in the matching pink dress and sweater, who stole in closer to watch, was mesmerized.
The biggest surprise for Elopre was when his hard-working mom stood up afterwards, attending with special permission arranged by Christine Stocker, choirist and the Wick’s Director of Operations.
L’Homme was inspired to include it after Elopre’s spontaneous solo during an early meeting of the teen choir; recognizing that moment as part of her mission to reach people through song.
An encore rain medley followed the standing ovation from ‘Singing in the Rain,’ to Toto’s ‘Africa,’ accompanied by cherished Indigenous rainsticks: a hollow tube filled with beans or pebbles.
McDougall says she carried hers back on the plane from Barra de Navidad in Mexico years ago.
L’Homme acknowledged the growing choir’s original members, as well as added texture provided by pianist Melanie Hack, cellist Claire Dresselhuis, drummer Lexie Miller and Carina Collins on bass.