18 months and a cultural chasm away – June 2008
Le Choeur Polyphonique de Lévis, based across the notorious 1km wide narrows of the mighty St. Lawrence River from Québec proper, had invited us to celebrate the city’s 400th anniversary with them in a concert in the beautiful Palais Montcalm where the acoustic is said to be the best in North America. Chorus master John Dexter, who travelled to Québec with us, agreed with his opposite number in the Choeur Polyphonique a concert programme incorporating numbers in French, English, Latin, Italian and Irish! A learning CD helped the locals with their Irish blas, while the visitors adapted their school French to the distinctive sound of Québecois French.
A couple of intensive rehearsal sessions knocked the combined Irish/French-Canadian team into shape, and on the night a big audience, swelled by a remarkably large Irish diaspora, seemed to appreciate the results. (A spy in the stalls reported a whispered ‘Merveilleux!’ at the end of ‘She Moved Through the Fair’).
An extraordinary and moving addition to the trip was a visit to Grosse Île, organized by Marianna O Gallagher, the founder of Irish Heritage Québec, who has dedicated much of her life to promoting awareness of the contribution of the Irish diaspora to the development of Québec. This island in the St Lawrence estuary was the old quarantine station for the port of Québec, then the main entry point for immigrants to Canada. More than 7,500 victims of typhus, a huge proportion of them Irish emigrants, are known to be buried on the island. As a mark of respect to them the choir sang Ag Críost an Síol at the mass grave now marked with a glass wall monument.
Reluctantly leaving French Canada after a round of parties and dances, everyone involved understood that despite the vast ocean that lies between us, this wouldn’t be the last collaboration between these two choirs.
Watch this space !