The Elektra Women’s Choir’s production of Chez Nous is a holiday tradition. They will perform Saturday, Nov. 23 at the Pacific Spirit United Church in Vancouver and Sunday, Nov. 24 at the Good Shepherd Church in Surrey.


Elektra Women’s Choir

When: Nov. 23, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Pacific Spirit United Church, 2205 West 45th Avenue, Vancouver

When: Sunday Nov. 24, 3 p.m.

Where: Good Shepherd Church, 2250 150th Street, Surrey

Tickets &

Many Lower Mainland choirs have staked out particular moments in the classical season as an annual focus. Good Friday is associated with the Vancouver Chamber Choir and Chor Leoni founder Diane Loomer made Remembrance Day a priority for her men’s choir.

The Elektra Women’s Choir selected late November for its special time of the year, with its annual holiday concert, Chez Nous and Christmas with Elektra.

The problem is that the event has often come and gone before traditional surveys of music for the holidays make it into print. Years ago, artistic director Morna Edmundson explained that the idea of Advent — the weeks leading up to Christmas, which begin on Dec. 1 this year — has particular significance for a women’s choir, given that the theme of the pre-Christmas days is anticipation and preparation.

Edmundson realized that scheduling a concert well into December would be a serious imposition on her singers, who she knew were already busy with domestic holiday preparations as well as other musical commitments.

Elektra Women’s Choir artistic director Morna Edmundson.


And with that, a tradition was born. Elektra isn’t rushing the season, just launching it with an inviting program for an especially wide spectrum of listeners. The “chez nous” epithet implies both hospitality and the ritual of seasonal visiting. Chez Nous features both as other performers — in this instance violinist Joan Blackman, cellist Rebecca Wenham, and the Vancouver Bach Choir Children’s Chorus — are invited to the musical party and given showcases.

Repertoire is fundamentally traditional, but inflected to emphasize Elektra’s pioneering role in creating new music for women’s voices. Sentimental favourites and carols are important, but so are more musically challenging materials.

Rehearsals are almost as enjoyable to listen to as sampling polished performances as it’s invariably a thrill to be off in a corner watching how performances come together.

At a rehearsal last week it was obvious that Edmundson runs a tight ship, but with a genuinely collegial atmosphere. Sure, there was lots of “let’s try this again,” but also many questions from her singers and shared suggestions about how best to deal with tricky passages. Some of the repertoire was already fully developed. Especially enchanting was a marvellous arrangement of the old French noël known in English as Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella! by Vancouver composer Sarah Jaysmith. Does she ever understand the particular charm of women’s voices and the power of a great tune!

Equally impressive was the hard work on Stephen Smith’s So Hallowed is That Time for violin, cello, and voices, a setting of a Shakespeare text of seasonal importance. The piece, with lots of evocative birdsong quotations, was an Elektra commission from seasons ago, and it’s going to get a much deserved revival. New to many will be the music of Argentine composer Santiago Veros, his O Magnum Mysterium. And the young composer’s work is spectacular, fresh, yet hauntingly beautiful.

Then, just before a well-earned break, Edmundson reminded the choir of how the whole evening will fit together, exploring some “difficult” works, then lightening up as the program progresses. There was also a cautionary word or two about the complicated wrangling of all those participants — an important reminder that getting any holiday show on the road so it all seems natural and effortless is a crucial part of the endeavour.

Chez Nous is a popular event, and tickets will be in demand.