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MBSS singers like ‘guests of honour’ in choral hotbed

Mount Baker Secondary School's senior choir recently went on a trip to Austria and the Czech Republic.
The Mount Baker Secondary School senior choir returned from performing at the International Advent Singing Festival in Vienna

Mount Baker Secondary School's senior choir recently went on a trip to Austria and the Czech Republic.

The choir students were invited to take part in an international choir festival in Vienna.

Evan Bueckert, who heads the music department at Mount Baker, said the whole trip was an incredible success, with students doing a great job as ambassadors for both Cranbrook and Canada.

"We were actually representing Canada as a whole, as the only Canadian choir at the festival," he said

At the festival there were 80 choirs from all over the world, with choirs from all different age groups.

“There were a lot of students there, which was nice for our kids,” he said. “They were able to mostly mingle with high school kids their age from different countries.”

The Mount Baker choir was made up of 70 singers.

It was one of the biggest choirs in the festival and it took two big buses and an entire airplane to get them there.

The trip was an eyeopener for the aspiring musicians.

“It’s an absolute hotbed of choral music in Vienna, everyone’s into it,” he said. “Everywhere you go you hear classical music and choirs singing, especially in advent season and Christmas season.”

The schedule was tight, with eight shows in five days, so a lot of the time was spent going from one concert to another. But while they didn’t get to hear too many of the other groups, they did have plenty of opportunities to meet and chat between performances.

Back in 2008, the Mount Baker choir went to the festival with 35 singers, after sending audition tapes and audio samples to festival officials who judged whether they would be allowed to perform.

“If you didn’t look good enough or sound good enough you weren’t invited because it was a world class event and they wanted everyone to be at a certain level,” he said.

“We did so well last time that we got  a personal letter back from the mayor of the city inviting us to return again.”

The festival organizers waived the festival fees and they were treated like guests of honour at every performance.

Bueckert said the Canadian students were popular right away and it didn’t take long for them to get a following, since they weren’t afraid to come forward and speak to other choir groups.

The choir that he took was the senior group only, so just grade 11 and 12, with a few former alumni as chaperones.

After the festival, the choir travelled to Prague, Czech Republic.

“The festival was pretty hectic, so it was nice to give students a couple of days to unwind and be tourists as well,” he said, but they did perform in Prague as well.

In total, the choir was gone for just over a week, with four days of concerts in Vienna, two days of concerts and running around in Prague, and a full day on either side for flights.

At the closing ceremony of the festival in Vienna, the Mount Baker choir was called up to do the encore in front of everyone.

The choir sang some really upbeat stuff that got everyone up and dancing, and here the choir took a risk and sang a non-Christmas song, though they were told only to sing Christmas music.

They sang “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” by Stevie Wonder instead.

“It brought the house down,” he said. “We broke some rules and took a risk, but it paid off.”

In another instance, Bueckert was sitting beside the director of the Norwegian youth choir. The director had his pick of every kid in the whole country to make the choir.

He asked Bueckert how difficult it must have been picking from all the students from all the high schools in British Columbia.

“I said, ‘No, they’re all from one town,’” Bueckert said.

Then Cranbrook must be the size of Vancouver, the director supposed, to have supplied that kind of talent.