A&E » Music

Barbed Choir rocks on

Whistler's newest singing group meets to test out classic rock and current pop



Anyone standing at the edge of Alta Lake last weekend might have heard a rousing version of "Seven Nation Army" by the White Stripes wafting across the water from The Point Artist-Run Centre.

It would have been quite unlike any other rendition.

That's because it had been reworked for singing by Whistler's Barbed Choir by choirmaster Jeanette Bruce — with 15 voices picking up all the pieces of the 2003 hit.

"It was a great song — the White Stripes have just a simple drum and guitar format. The lower voices sang the iconic bass line and the higher voices sang the guitar solo," Bruce says.

Barbed Choir is less than a year old, starting last February. They meet every second Sunday at The Point, but Bruce says they are still working out the permanent schedule.

"It's going really, really well. I sent out a survey to our Facebook group to get a feel for what people like or don't like or suggestions, and people seem to be pleased with it overall," Bruce says.

"A lot of people would love it to be every week. We'll see going forward."

A lot of Barbed Choir's repertoire are "oldies," classic rock pieces by Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, the Ramones, the Eagles and the like.

"I had been concerned about people learning new songs, but enough people have said they are up for trying songs they may not have heard before, so I think we will be branching out this season," Bruce says.

"Generally, we learn one song in its entirety in one rehearsal. Some people haven't heard the melody before and so we have to learn every bit of it.

"Last rehearsal, most people had heard of 'Seven Nation Army,' but plenty of us needed reminders on the nuances."

And Bruce tries to keep it less formal than traditional choirs (she is already one of the co-organizers of the Whistler Children's Chorus and sings with the adult group, the Whistler Singers). Because they cover a new song every week it is easier to take breaks from the group, according to singers' commitments.

"If there is a song that really calls to you, you might come that week and then we might not see you for a bit and that's OK. It's always a bit of a surprise, to be honest, there are eight or nine hardcore regulars who never miss it, but then rest of the group is flexible," she says.

"It seems like every time we meet there are new people."

The singing is taught by rote and it is not necessary to know how to read music, Bruce adds.

How different is it from a traditional choir, given that most choirs sing songs written for that form?

"Let me count the ways! It's very different," Bruce laughs.

"The main reason we don't use sheet music is because we don't want to alienate people who don't read music. Not being able to read music doesn't mean someone can't sing. Learning music orally is an awesome skill to have. It makes you a better singer.

"And sheet music costs money! That's another thing. It is convenient to learn everything by ear."

Bruce describes this as an interesting challenge.

She says: "With Barbed Choir, I listen to a song and assess whether I can pick out a couple of different parts. Generally, we end up singing two parts — the guys and the girls, part one and part two, low and high. We don't talk baritone, bass and alto."

Journalist Dan Falloon (a.k.a. Pique's sports editor) belonged to a similar choir prior to moving to Whistler from Winnipeg and pitched the idea to Stephen Vogler, the executive director of The Point.

Falloon agrees that singing pop or rock with a group of fellow music lovers is a step up from driving down the highway and howling away to a song on the radio.

"There are songs that people like to sing along with anyway, so once you get together with people to sing songs where you're not starting from zero, it is a really good evening," Falloon says.

Fall practices take place at The Point on Oct. 2, 16, 30, Nov. 13, 27, and Dec. 11 at 7 p.m..

For more information visit the Barbed Choir Facebook page. Carpooling is also organized on the Facebook page. Participation is by donation; Bruce recommends $5 per person to cover the cost of renting the Point.