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(Posted 8:30 p.m., Nov. 30)

Orléans Choirfest kicks off the holiday season in grand style
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

A youing girl holds a candle as the St. Helen's Anglican Church Choir performs 'Light A Candle' during the 25th Annual Orléans Christmas Choirfest on Sunday. Fred Sherwin/Photo


For the past 25 years, the east end's Christian community has been celebrating the arrival of Advent by joining together in song and fellowship to raise money for the east end's two foodbanks.

On Sunday, more than 1200 people filled the Community Pentecostal Church for the 25th Annual Orléans Chirstmas Choirfest, which this year featured 11 choirs from five different Christian denominations.

As the audience members took their seats, they were serenaded by the heavenly tones of harpists Joanne Griffin and Heather Flinn who set the mood for the performances to come.

The task of opening the Christmas Choirfest is traditional given to the massed children's choirs which this year consisted of the Community Pentecostal Kidz Choir, the Orleans United Church Junioir Choir, the Cross Town Youth Chorus, the St. Peter Catholic High School choir and the Sonshine Singers.

After an upbeat performance of "The Viirgin Mary Had A Baby Boy", the junior choirs left the stage to the Sonshine Singers whose rousing and uplifting performance of "He Reigns" had the audience practically jumping out of their seats.

The Community Pentecostal Kidz Choir slowed things down a bit with "A Strange Way To Save The World" which featured a duet by two young performers dressed as Mary and Joseph.

After the Orleans United Church Junior Choir and the Cross Town Youth Chorus took their turn on stage, the St. Peter Catholic School choir delivered the first highlight of the evening with two incredibly strong performances of "His Eye is on the Sparrow" and "Mary Did You Know".

This is the fifth year that the St. Peter chorus has performed at the Choirfest under the direction of Bernie Leger.

"This is just a marvelous event," Leger said after the group's performance. "There really isn't a lot of opportunities to come together as Christians to celebrate our faith and as one of the largest choirs in the Catholic board and one of only two Catholic representatives here along with Divine Infant, we feel a certain responsibilty to represent."

One of the nicest aspects of the Chirstmas Choirfest are the moments of audience participation in between the senior choir performances. Since the audience is mostly made up of choir members, the singing of traditional Christmas carols like "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "The First Noel" are truely magical.

The St. Peter High School choir was followed on stage by the St. Helen's Anglican Church Choir which kept things at a high level with their performance of :"Light A Candle" and "Kyrie Kum Ba Ya".

Following a communal performance of "The First Noel", the Grace Presbyterian Church Choir delivered their version of "Is A Murmuring Dove Nearby" and "A Manger Gloria".

The Queenswood United Church Choir turned things up a couple of notches with their uplifting performance of "The Cradle Rocks In Glory!" followed by the spiritual "Way Down Yonder In Bethlehem".

As a special treat this year, the Choirfest organizers asked local gospel artist Cathy Goddard to perform during the freewill offering. The Community Pentecostal Church member chose "Bethlehem Morning" and "Jesus What A Wonderful Child" which was met by one of the loudest ovations of the evening.

After the freewill offering, the Cumberland Community Singers took the stage to perform "O Night Devine" and "Christmas a la Fa La La". They were followed on stage by the Orleans United Church Choir, and the host Community Pentecostal Church Choir which drew an extended ovation for their performance of the holiday favourite, "O Holy Night" and "Bethleham Calls".

The Divine Infant Roman Catholic Church Choir was up next and chose to perform the contemporay Christian classic "Breathe" by Marie Barnett which was absolutely spell-binding. Afterwards, they were joined on stage afterwards by the St. Francis Primary Choir to "Blessed Be The God of Israel" accompanied by Xavier Rankin on the bodhran.

As the audience sang "Joy To The World" the various choirs massed on stage to sing "Glory! Glory!" and "Hallelujah! Joy To The World". For the finale, the choirs encircled the entire room to sing "Peace, Peace" which has brought all 25 Choirfests to a close.

During the previous 24 Choirfests, the organizers have managed to raise more than $80,000 for the local Orléans-Cumberland Community Resource Centre food program and the Gloucester Emergency Food Cupboard.

Sunday night's program was expected to raise another $4,000 plus for the local foodbanks, which is music to the ears of the Choirfest's founder and spiritual leader Lynne Stacey.

"Every single year it just keeps getting better and better," said Stacey. "We're so blessed to be able to bring all these terrific choirs together and raise money for the local food programs."

This year's Choirfest was taped by Rogers Channel 22 which will broadcast the event at various times during the holiday season.

The Orléans Christmas Choirfest kicks off a series of choral celebrations that continues this Friday and Saturday night with two performances by the Corvo Vivo at the Orleans United Church on Orléans Blvd. The program will feature vibrant South American choral music along wirth a smattering of traditional Christmas favourites. Curtain time both nights is 7:30 p.m. and admission is $15 per person. Children 12 and under are admitted for free.

The Community Pentecostal Church Choir will be presenting Handel's Young Messiah next Sunday with special guests, the Jubilance Singers and Orchestra from Toronto. There is no charge to attend the concert, however a freewill offering will be taken for the Samaritan Ministry Christmas food basket program. The concert begines at 6 p.m.

Finally, the Cumberland Community Singers will present "A Christmas Carol" with community and celebrity readings at Orleans United Church on December, Dec. 12at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for seniors. Children 17 and under are admitted for free.

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

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