The Augustana Choir, under the direction of John Wiebe, is excited to be heading out on an Alberta recruitment tour during their spring break from March 5th to 7th.
The evening will feature works by Thomas Weelkes, Felix Mendelssohn, Ēriks Ešenvalds, Don Macdonald, Kim Andre Arnesen and more. The concert will also feature solos by Augustana music majors in voice, piano and tuba.
The choir will visit Castor’s Paintearth Lodge on March 5th and the Bashaw United Church on March 7th.
All concerts begin at 7 p.m. and admission is by donation.
Wiebe, an award-winning choral conductor, pianist, orchestral conductor, singer, educator, adjudicator and clinician from Edmonton, said the tour is also a means to recruit new students.
“We need people to know that the University of Alberta, one of the top universities in Canada, doesn’t require that you have to move to Edmonton and live in a city of almost a million people and on a campus of 40,000 students,” he explained. “You can also get a degree from the University of Alberta and live in a beautiful, smaller town on a campus in Camrose with just over 1,000 students,” he said. “There is an incredible sense of community. So there are options for people.”
Meanwhile, the Augustana Choir performs a range of a cappella choral music from the Renaissance to the latest in contemporary choral compositions.
An active touring tradition has also led the Choir to perform concerts for local, national and international audiences including a tour of Cuba in January of 2019.
In 2014, the Choir was honoured to accept an invitation to perform at Podium 2014, the national choral conference of Choral Canada in Halifax and in 2012, the Choir traveled to Hungary.
Meanwhile, known for the energy, craftsmanship and passion he brings to his music making, Wiebe has multiple recordings, awards and broadcasts to his credit including the Choir Alberta Richard S. Eaton Award in 2019.
“Music was always a big part of my life,” he explained. “I grew up in a very musical, singing family.
“Partly that was through church, but it was just the way our family was – we’d get together and do a lot of singing. Taking piano lessons and singing in choirs – these are things we just did.”
Wiebe also noted that as he got older, he just kept on ‘doing’ music.
“At some point it was like, why would I stop doing this?” he said, describing the organic route he took in carving out his career. “It wasn’t until I was well out of high school that I decided it could actually become a career.”
Choirs under his leadership have performed coast-to-coast across Canada and around the world (in Europe, Russia, South America and China), and have received awards for their performances locally, nationally and at the Langollen Music Festival as well as the World Choir Games.
“I do what I do as a musician because of the people,” he added. “I love working with people – for me that’s the number one thing. That’s what excites me, that’s what motivates me, that’s what gives me ideas.
“We are taking people from all walks of life – it doesn’t matter whether I’m working with students from university or working with community choirs. You are taking people from all areas of life and we come together with a common goal, and we express ourselves in a certain way.
“It’s vulnerable, it’s beautiful. It can be breathtaking and it can be difficult. And it’s always rewarding. So for me, that’s the number one thing – it’s always about working with people when you make music like this.”
Wiebe explained that choral singing is one of the most popular group activities in Canada.
“More people sing in a choir in Canada than play hockey. It’s one of the most popular group activities because of how accessible it is and how affirming it is – both for community and for personal self-worth.
“With our choir, we’re going to take some challenging music and we are going to push the boundaries with it,” he added of his work at Augustana. “People also come to our choirs from such different levels. With the Chamber choir, we have music majors, and some of them are voice majors. They are studying for hours every day.
“They are doing recitals, they are soloists. And then sitting beside them in the choir will be a science major who sang in a choir in high school. They love it, and have a good idea what’s happening, but they have never had a private voice lesson in their life and wouldn’t dream of doing a solo recital.
“But we take these people together and create a single cohesive group.
“That’s the journey we are on every year with a group like this. When you sing in a choir, you are willing to take your voice – what you have – and share it with the people around you in the choir and with the audience as well,” he said. “There is a vulnerability that has to be explored.
“That’s when art can happen – when the artist is willing to say, without pretense, this is what we have to offer here.”