At the beginning of February 2015, the Cantiamo Girls Choir of Ottawa went on an overnight retreat to the Bonnenfant YMCA camp. The camp is located right beside the Ottawa River, with woods and nature surrounding it. At that time of year, the snow blanketed everything. The setting alone was enough to bring us closer as a choir, and to re-centre our singing.
With Christmas being such a busy time of year, and with all the exciting new music we were given to learn, followed by school exams, it is easy to forget what the important part of singing really is. Singing is about spreading your happiness to other people, about sending a message to the audience, and simply enjoying yourself. There was a powerful sense of fulfillment that came with the spontaneous singing we did as a group while walking to the dining hall, or when brushing our teeth. As a Cantiamo chorister, my favourite memories are the ones when we sang for no apparent reason. Someone would start to hum a tune, sometimes from a current or previous piece of music – sometimes completely improvised – and then everyone would join in.
The weekend was relaxed and filled with lots of singing, icebreaker games and crocheting. We arrived on Saturday morning, lugging our backpacks and sleeping bags. The icebreaker games began immediately; these included “silly-walks” and “cup-stacking”. The silly-walks game helped us appreciate everybody’s individuality. The cup stacking game helped us all to be on the same wavelength as our teammates, but also to think independently.
We slept in cabins with two bunk-beds in each room and a chaperone in the hall. You get to know the other girls very well when you’re all wearing sweatpants, baggy sweaters, and without makeup. It’s then that you understand better who they really are, what they’re like when they wake you up just before dawn. We began Sunday morning with Tai Chi exercises led by our Artistic Director, Jackie Hawley. Tai Chi is all about focusing on breathing and how you feel in that moment. After that, we began some very silly dancing to the song Cotton-Eyed-Joe. In our regular two-hour Monday night rehearsals, we have less time for games like these, and we were glad for the chance just to laugh and be ourselves.
Personally, I love these opportunities to get to know the other choristers better. Many of them I know extremely well as we have grown up together in the choir, but there are still a few girls who I know very little about. The more I find out about them, the more I value this amazing opportunity to work with so many strong and talented girls. The choristers become a part of your family, and it makes me very sad to know that many of them will be graduating from Cantiamo later this year. However, with every girl that leaves, there is a new girl that comes and the family just gets bigger and bigger.
During the weekend, our Accompanist, Associate Conductor and Composer-in-Residence, Laura Hawley, taught us all to crochet. This doesn’t have much to do with music but it did help us grow as a team and exercise leadership skills, particularly in helping each other figure out how to untangle the scarves! The finished scarves also kept us warm in the cold weather. Whenever I wear my scarf now, I smile at the memories of the weekend and sing a little more in my day.
– Emily P., Cantiamo Chorister