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Singing with one voice

Music professor celebrates 10 years leading the Concordia University Chorus
April 2, 2012
By Liz Crompton

When Jean-Sébastien Allaire arrived to teach his first class of Concordia University Chorus in the fall of 2001, he was surprised to find not just music students but also students from other Faculties, some of whom had never sung before.

“That first year was a real learning process,” says the part-time professor, adding he had to quickly work out how to provide the best leadership to a diverse group. “It’s a very eclectic group. They range from accomplished musicians to people who have only ever sung in the bathroom.”

Conductor Jean-Sébastien Allaire leads the Concordia University Chorus in song. | Photo by Christie Vuong
Conductor Jean-Sébastien Allaire leads the Concordia University Chorus in song. | Photo by Christie Vuong

Ten years after that first class – and with members now including faculty and staff, alumni and members of the community at large – it’s clear Allaire has perfected the formula to satisfy everyone. He both challenges the music students and makes the material comprehensible to total beginners. It’s also clear he delights in the sense of community singing together fosters.

“We come as one voice, as one unit, to do the best music we can.”

The Concordia community will have an opportunity to hear that voice when the University Chorus presents its annual spring concert on Tuesday, April 10 at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall on Loyola Campus. The Chamber Choir, a smaller ensemble conducted by Department of Music Professor Christopher Jackson, with whom Allaire has worked in various capacities since 1996, will also be performing.

The Tuesday night chorus class is but one of Allaire’s many activities. Growing up in a musical family, he studied as a violinist first, then became a singer, conductor and teacher. His varied professional experiences have led him to positions such as artistic director of Ensemble Vocal Musica Viva and of the Erskine Chamber Choir, choral director of St. James United Church, and guest studio conductor of the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra in Slovakia.

He’s also been a studio conductor for the Cirque du Soleil productions ZED and KÀ and has taught conducting and choral singing at Carleton University. Recently he’s been singing with Les Violons du Roy, a Quebec City-based chamber orchestra, which in March took him to New York City’s Carnegie Hall (where he has performed many times before). 

Leave worries behind
Allaire’s got energy to spare. “He’s always active, and proactive – there’s never a dull moment,” says first-year undergraduate music student Jorge Carlos Flores Lopez. “He’s an incredible teacher.”

Flores Lopez, who plays the bass guitar, says he wasn’t expecting to learn as much as he has. He’s found both his ability to read music and his overall musicianship has improved in a course that is both challenging and satisfying. “Tuesday is my favourite day of the week,” he says.

Many others feel the same, making choir a popular course. It’s doubled from 38 students in 2001-02 to more than 80 today. Kathy McAleese, who both works in the Faculty of Fine Arts and studies in Applied Human Sciences, registered last fall after several years of coaxing by a co-worker.

“I was petrified. I don’t sing,” she recalls of her one-on-one audition. (Allaire says he’s not looking for perfection: “If you can make a decent noise, it’s my job to make you sound good.”)

Nine months later, McAleese is more than glad that she pushed through her fear. Allaire’s infectious enthusiasm and passion for the songs and their history makes it easy for students to forget all their worries for a few hours. “It is so much fun,” says McAleese, emphasizing each word. 

The class learns about 10 songs per semester, each culminating in a concert before a live audience. Practicing is a task made easier by the fact that Allaire, who has rare perfect pitch, records himself singing each song individually in various vocal parts, and makes the MP3 files of each part available for students to download.

“The university chorus, for Concordia music students, is one of the best esprit-de-corps experiences that they can have at the university,” says Christine Beckett, acting chair of the Department of Music.

“He gives them an experience that really expands their consciousness. Everyone who speaks of this class glows.”

What: Concordia University Chorus, conducted by Jean-Sébastien Allaire, performs in concert with the Chamber Choir, conducted by Christopher Jackson
When: Tuesday, April 10, 2012, at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, Loyola Campus (7141 Sherbrooke St. W.)
Cost: $5 general admission, free for students with ID

Related links:
•  Spring 2012 concert series
•  Jean-Sébastien Allaire faculty bio
•  Jean-Sébastien Allaire’s website
•  Oscar Peterson Concert Hall
•  Fine Arts Spring Shows

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