Volume 10 Week 10

Sunday, Dec. 14


Updated March 2

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Orléans Ward
Bob Monette





(Posted 1:30 p.m., Dec. 18)

Belcourt Manor choir spreads joy of music to fellow seniors
By Fred Sherwin
Orleans Online

Members of 'Les Jeunes de Coeur de Belcourt' perform for their fellow residents at the Belcourt Manor retirement residence on Sunday. Fred Sherwin/Photo

For the past two weeks a group of residents from the Belcourt Manor retirement residence have been touring seniors homes across the city to share their joy of music with fellow seniors.

"Les Jeunes de Coeur de Belcourt" is made up of 10 women and seven men including a former Catholic priest and a retired monk. The average age of the group is 80. Collectively they've celebrated a grand total of 1,350 Christmases, soon to become 1,367.

The choir was formed last summer by Belcourt resident and former choir master, Yvonne Lunney.

Lunney got the idea while entertaining her fellow residents at the piano every week. During the informal sessions a number of residents would join in. Over time, the numbers grew to the point where she decided to create a choir.

Their initial goal was to hold a benefit concert and record a CD which they did with great success in September. But what was supposed to be a one off effort soon turned into something bigger. In November, they started talking about holding a series of Christmas concerts at other Allegro residences in the region in an effort to raise money for the Ottawa Food Bank.

The chorus wrapped up their tour on Sunday with a heartwarming performance for their fellow residents, family members and friends at Belcourt Manor.

The first half of the concert featured a mix of French classics such as "Souvenir d'un Viellard" and "Tristesse", along with a few Irish favourites like "Danny Boy", "Molly Malone" and "I'll Tell My Ma".

After a short intermission the choir launched into the second half of the program which included holiday classics like "O Holy Night", "Silver Bells" and "Silent Night".

Judging by the applause and the smiles on everyone's faces, the audience was thoroughly entertained, although at times it was hard to tell who was having more fun -- the audience or the members of the choir.

At 87, Iréne Grandmaitre is the oldest member of the chorus by a couple of months. For at least 60 of her 87 years, she has sung in a variety of choirs. When word spread that a choir was being formed at the Manor, she signed up immediately.

"Oh, this has just been wonderful," Grandmaitre said during the intermission on Sunday. "It's brought back so many memories. My father couldn't sing a note, but he loved to hear my mother sing. She's the one who taught all us kids. She taught me how to sing "Souvenir d'un Viellard" in French."

When Lunney first started to put the choir together, she had a difficult time getting the male members of the chorus to join in.

"They were too afraid to open their mouths," said Lunney. "Eventually, I had to separate them and work on the guys separately."

One person she didn't have to coax too much was her husband Ed, who used to sing all the time before the demands of the Catholic priesthood cut into his rehearsal time. Lunney rose to the rank of Monsignor, before eventually leaving the priesthood several years ago and eventually marrying Yvonne.

Despite suffering from the effects of Parkinson's Disease, Lunney is the featured soloist in the choir's Irish numbers which he obviously enjoys. During "I'll Tell My Ma", there was a visible twinkle in his eye that could be seen from the back of the room.

Among the other choir members, Gerry Bérnard was simply amazing while sharing soloist duties with Jaqueline Forest on "Tristesse" and Gisèle Sorel on "Panis Angelicus". Both women were impeccable. So much so, in fact, that I one could easily imagine them performing as featured soloists with any chorus in the city.

The remainder of the choir is made up of Denyse Kingsley, Allan Yoxon, Gilles Bellehumeur, Murielle Wilson, John Charlebois, Madeleine Ségiun, Georgette Charlebois, Gisèle Gagné, Colbert Brulé, Jacqueline Bérnard and Hervé Charlebois.

Sadly, however, the Lunneys have recently moved to another retirement residence, which has thrown the future of the Belcourt chorus in doubt. One can only hope that the remaining choir will continue to sing together and stay young at heart.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)



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