For 65 years, the Ottawa Children’s Choir has been training kids to raise their voices
If children’s voices, joined harmoniously in song is the most beautiful sound in the world, then St. Joseph’s Church must be one of the most wonderful places in the National Capital Region.
Four nights a week, the five choir groups of the Ottawa Children’s Choir bring to life the Ottawa church—where it has been located since 2016—the way only music can. The choir itself, founded in 1958 as the Ottawa Board of Education Central Choir for musically gifted students, is ubiquitous in Ottawa. If you haven’t heard of the Ottawa Children’s Choir (OCC), you’ve definitely heard them.
“If [you] ever watch Remembrance Day and have seen the kids’ choir in red performing, that is us,” says Emili Losier, general manager of the OCC.
A not-for-profit charitable organization since 1998, the choir exists to enrich the lives of choristers, families and the community through the arts and to foster the next generation of choral musicians.
The groups—Prima Choir (senior kindergarten through Grade 2), Viva Choir (Grades 3 through 6), Concert Choir (Grades 4 through 8), Chamber Choir (Grades 7 through 12) and Boys’ Choir (Grades 5 through 12)—participate in musical training, rehearsals, educational outreach, mentoring, social activities and perform in more than 20 performances each year. Following in the footsteps of OCC alumni Laurence Ewashko, a leader in the Ottawa artistic community; Grammy-award-winning composer Paul Halley and Canadian mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta, the singers perform regularly in the region, nationally and internationally: at the Tuscany International Children’s Chorus Festival in Italy, the International Youth and Music Festival in Vienna, Austria and in Vimy, France for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
Choristers sing in a variety of styles and languages with an emphasis on Canadian compositions, including OCC-commissioned works. “The children find themselves particularly drawn to Canadian and Indigenous composers,” says board member and choir parent Jon Richardson. “While the traditional classical choir pieces all have their place, the choristers are finding that challenging themselves in different languages and experiencing the music of different cultures is providing them with fulfilling and memorable experiences. It exposes choristers to genres and even instruments they may not have experienced prior to the OCC.”
Music curriculum also includes music theory and analysis of music. By the time a chorister is in Concert or Chamber choir, they will be able to hear all the other parts being sung around them while keeping their own part consistent and clear for all.
Life skills and competencies (discipline, responsibility, reliability, self-confidence and teamwork) are also taught. “Children learn about the professionalism of learning something to a high level and presenting it for audiences, but also that those around them are relying on them,” says Losier. It’s also about nurturing a love of music, and a feeling of belonging, which comes from being part of a group. “There are plenty of children who carry with them a love of music and a joy of singing,” Losier says. “Those children need to be given the opportunity to grow their skills and foster their musical potential.”
So you want to sing?
What: Auditions for the Ottawa Children’s Choir
Who: All children Grade 3 and up will have to audition (or re-audition if they are already choristers with the OCC). This excludes singers wishing to join the Boys’ Choir—no auditions are required.
Why: The ages of OCC’s choirs overlap to give staff the flexibility to find the correct choir for each child. “When children audition for the OCC, they don’t get to choose which choir they will be in,” says Losier. The conductors use the audition to assess each child’s current musical knowledge and vocal abilities. They then place the kids into the choir that corresponds with their age and ability.
When: This year’s auditions will be held August 21 to 24.
How: Auditions can be booked two months prior to audition dates at ottawachildrenschoir.ca
About the OCC’s Boys’ Choir
Striving to be an inclusive organization, the OCC started a boys’ choir to encourage boys to stay in choir as their voices change during puberty, says Jon Richardson. “It can be embarrassing for a boy as part of a large choir to suddenly have his voice crack or find himself struggling to sing in a range he could the previous week.” The Boys’ Choir allows those boys who are members go through the process of finding their adult voices together and provides support and a safe space for boys to experience their vocal change amongst others who are going through the same biological change.