This week is a time of great choral change for Edmonton. In addition to the news of Pro Coro's new artistic director this Friday, it was officially announced today that the conductor of Belle Canto and Chamber Choir as well as artistic director of Cantilon Choirs, Heather Johnson, will be seeking a replacement for her position. She will stay on as a co-conductor of Belle Canto but there will be an opening for the position of artistic director and conductor of the Chamber Choir. What does this mean for Belle Canto? We would have somebody leading local rehearsals but Heather would join us a few times of the year for intense blocks of rehearsals. That's not bad at all. It's how Pro Coro functions, as well as many other professional ensembles and it's a working model. I was expecting more of a "Farewell! I'll never see you again!" rather than a "Farewell! See you again in two months!"
By the time I officially heard the news on Monday, I had reached the point of acceptance in regards to this potential news. I think everybody in the choir knew at the beginning of the season that this was a realistic possibility since her husband was accepted for a University teaching position in Ottawa. Collectively, we knew that a move to join him would be in the not-so-distant future especially since they have a young daughter and the east-west commute for family time looked hectic to say the least. It's not a matter of where they should live but more a question of what makes sense as a family.
I can only imagine the emotional backlash Heather received from some of her younger singers: anger, shock, abandonment, jealously... If I was 15, I'd probably feel the same way. Choir was my life. It gave me purpose, confidence, community---taking away the core of that would have had a destabilizing effect upon anybody. The egocentric worldview of a teenager can easily disregard the complexity of adult decisions. It's hard to predict how we will respond to substantial life decisions when we are greeted with them. While I can't even imagine how I would respond in a similar situation, I seek solace in the fact that my future self would be able to make the best decision for myself at that point in time.
At rehearsal on Monday, Heather asked us if we had any questions or thoughts about the proposed arrangements. I was trying to compose a mental discourse of my feelings to share with the group, but I realized that I didn't have anything to add. I knew that this announcement has been coming for a while and that she has already considered every possibility. It's really time to stop thinking and time to start moving on. Which is exactly what Cantilon is doing by seeking a replacement.
While I don't know what the future will bring, let this post be my personal proclamation of support for Heather. I know this decision was not an easy one but having Belle Canto as a stabilizing unit in a time of great change is of great comfort to me, the choir as a whole, and, I think, Heather as well. Therefore Heather, if you are reading this: Go to Ottawa! Unite your family! Start a choir in Ottawa! If life ever brings you back to Edmonton, we'll be here.
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