Since 2008, the choir has been under the creative and enthusiastic direction of Bradley van Middelkoop. The Calgary native graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Music with High Distinction from Concordia University College of Alberta in 2005 and went on to complete his Masters in Choral Conducting from the University of Calgary.
After taking a position at the Medicine Hat College Conservatory of Music and Dance, he also enrolled at the college and completed a Bachelor of Education with Distinction offered in collaboration with the University of Alberta.
“To balance out life, I’ve kept the stuff that I love. The choirs are my extracurricular, my babies. I don’t look at it as work,” says van Middelkoop, who directs the girls’ and adult choirs in addition to teaching full-time at St. Mary’s School. He also used to lead the younger conservatory choirs and has had the opportunity to watch many of these young singers progress through the choral program over the years.
Shayna Peters started singing at the age of four. Her kindergarten teacher recognized her gift and encouraged her to join the Medicine Hat College Junior Children’s Choir. Twelve years later, the McCoy High School student still loves everything about singing and the many opportunities that being a choir member offers.
“We get to travel quite a bit and experience different cultures. They’re not just singing trips, they are learning trips, too,” says Peters who went to Scotland in her first year with the girls’ choir and South Africa last July where they shared music with local choirs, went on a safari, and visited Cape Town and the Soweto township.
The choir won first place in the youth category and the grand prize for the best overall choir at the eighth annual Ihlombe! South African Choral Festival in Pretoria. The prize included a trophy, 5,000 South Africa Rand (approximately $459.04 Canadian dollars) and the right to commission a newly composed work for the group.
While extremely proud of what the girls accomplished last year alone – a first place finish at the Rotary Music Festival Rose Bowl in addition to their international success – van Middelkoop insists that winning is not their ultimate goal.
“We enter these events to sing for an adjudicator and get feedback, or to please audiences in different ways. We enter to achieve those goals, not for fame and fortune.”
The success of the choir depends on more than just voices,” adds van Middelkoop. “Having the right attitude and the support of a committed parent volunteer group makes things like international tours a possibility.”
Another important aspect to the group’s success is a mandatory choir retreat each fall. van Middelkoop brings the girls together for a weekend to provide an opportunity for them to start singing and building relationships.
It’s those relationships that have kept Amara Hellman coming back to choir year after year.
[Photo by Joan Kennedy]
“It’s a very welcoming community. The choir has helped me keep friends and make new friends,” says 17-year-old Hellman.
Now in her sixth and final year, Hellman loves the experience of being on stage and is grateful for everything she’s learned. From experimenting with new styles of music to learning about different cultures – either from tour trips abroad or simply the stories told through music – she believes being a member of the choir has taught her respect, maturity, and discipline.
“We sing everything under the sun. It has helped me appreciate all types of music. Folk, classical, world - I love it all. The choir is an opportunity to make some really great music.
Both Peters and Hellman agree: van Middelkoop is another big part of why they commit to rehearsals every Wednesday night at the Cultural Centre. Hilarious, understanding and relatable, van Middelkoop connects with his choristers and creates a positive learning experience.
For van Middelkoop, the real reward comes when he’s no longer needed.
“I don’t need to start them or stop them. I just sit down and let them go, set them free. It’s just magical.”
Experience the magic of the Medicine Hat College Girls’ Choir at their annual Christmas concert on Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. The choir will perform Les Anges Chantent at Fifth Annual Memorial United Church.
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