A little Christmas ‘gift to Ottawa’

| September 30, 2013 | 0 Comments
The EU Christmas Concert 2012: From left, Robert Filion, director of the Chorale de la Salle; Jackie Hawley, director of the Ottawa Children's Choir; organizer Ulle Baum; former EU Ambassador Matthias Brinkmann.

The EU Christmas Concert 2012: From left, Robert Filion, director of the Chorale de la Salle; Jackie Hawley, director of the Ottawa Children’s Choir; organizer Ulle Baum; former EU Ambassador Matthias Brinkmann.

This year, for the sixth year in a row, the delegation of the European Union will present a unique Christmas concert, free of charge, to Ottawans.
The concert, which attracted 1,300 Ottawans last year, has become a well-loved tradition, featuring Christmas carols from many of the European Union’s member states. It gives Canadians a chance to enjoy the continent’s carols, some of which they may know well; others they may never have heard.
It also gives the EU delegation a chance to engage the community because it asks local school choirs to sing the carols. This year, the Ottawa Children’s Choir, the Ottawa University Calixa Choir and the Chorale de la Salle will perform. In all, that represents about 100 choir members who will sing carols that originated in Europe.
“Our motto is United in Diversity,” said Manfred Auster, minister-counsellor and chargé d’affaires at the delegation of the European Union. “And I think the Christmas concert symbolizes that because it brings together musical history from many of the member states. “We can’t have songs from all 28 member states — that would make a rather long program — but we try to be quite representative.”
Now a well-known event, it usually attracts more than the church can hold, Mr. Auster said. Often there are people standing at the back, and there are frequently queues to get in.
The concert, organized by Ottawa resident Ulle Baum, who is originally from Estonia, is important for Ottawans like her, who are members of the European diaspora.
“They can come and hear their country’s music,” Ms Baum said. “It’s free of charge; it’s the EU’s gift to Ottawa, to community — a wonderful way to build bridges between countries and people.”
She noted that nearly all of those who attended last year’s concert left with another gift, a more tangible one — a ball cap from the European Union.
The concert is unique in that the choirs learn the songs in the native language of the country from which they hail so they might be singing Danish for one song and Greek for another. Chorale de la Salle director Robert Filion said he gives his students YouTube videos to watch so they can learn the basic pronunciations.
“The first year it was tough,” Filion said. But they sometimes do the same songs as the previous year, which makes it easier. It’s become an important event for choir members and learning new languages is part of the thrill.
“The singers learn these Christmas songs in complex new languages in just few months,” Ms Baum said. “If they need extra help, a representative from the embassy in question comes to the rehearsal and helps with pronunciation of the words.”
One of Ms Baum’s favourite parts of the event is the last song on the play list, which is Silent Night. For that song, all members of the choirs sing with the organ and the entire audience is invited to sing along. “It’s absolutely beautiful,” Ms Baum says.
She credited musical directors Robert Filion, Jackey Hawley and Laurence Ewashko, “who work with great passion and very hard with the students to teach new songs and prepare the choirs for this important concert. It is a great team effort.”
The concert takes place Dec. 6 at Notre Dame Basilica at 7 p.m.

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