The St. Lambert Choral Society will be 100 years old in 2019 ! A cultural and heritage jewel, the SLCS is the oldest active amateur choir in Québec, and one of the oldest in Canada.
The St. Lambert Choral Society was officially incorporated on February 19, 1919, but its beginnings date back to a period between 1891 and 1913.
A Brief History of the St. Lambert Choral Society Denyse Lemay, Copyright
Its history is closely linked to the development of the municipality of St. Lambert, which was created in 1857 with the construction of the railway. Starting as a village in 1892, it obtained town status in 1898.
In this time period, concerts accompanied all major ceremonies. There was no shortage of these, given that the population of St. Lambert tripled between 1881 and 1891, and tripled again from 1891 to 1911.
Programme cover for the first recorded concert given by the Saint-Lambert Choral Society in 1891
Between 1891 and 1913, the Saint-Lambert Choral Society existed under its current name. On Friday evenings, the Society presented classical concerts at the Boat Club House and Academy Hall. Some of these concerts were benefits for the growing town of Saint-Lambert; a notable example was to raise funds for the construction of the Presbyterian Church.
In 1907, the SLCS had about 50 choristers. Around 1913, as the opera became more popular, membership declined.
During this time in Saint-Lambert…
- Madame Bertha Belasco Burland, a notable figure in Saint-Lambert society, founded the Tuesday Musical Club (1907–1964). The Club presented concerts of sacred, classical, instrumental, and other types of music, and would occasionally include choral singing. The TuesdayMusical Club dominated the classical music scene of its day.
- Mr. J.T.R. Hicks, active in both groups, was the Musical Director of the SLCS in 1903, 1904, and 1907; moreover, in 1905, he created a fanfare, the Saint-Lambert Band, and directed the Junior Choral of the Tuesday Musical Club from 1907 to 1924.
Around 1916, the Tuesday Musical Club’s Choral Committee decided that choral music would form the heart of their repertoire. Three years later, in 1919, the ever-creative Mrs. Belasco Beland founded the Saint-Lambert Amateur Operatic Society. Around 1952, the word ’Amateur’ was dropped from the name because of the ensemble’s superior quality. This group represents the SLCS at its most lavish.
Each year, the Society would present an opera, operetta, or musical comedy. The repertoire consisted largely of works by Gilbert and Sullivan, such as The Gondoliers, The Yeomen of the Guard, The Pirates of Penzance, Mikado, Iolanthe, Patience, and H.M.S. Pinafore. Costumes for these productions were sumptuous and the sets elaborate. Performances generally took place Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 8:15 p.m. at one of several Saint-Lambert venues, especially Town Hall, Saint-Michael’s Hall, the Saint-Lambert High School Auditorium, or the Chambly County High School Auditorium. The Saint-Lambert Operatic Society also performed in Montréal at the Chalet in Mount Royal Park and at Théâtre Saint-Denis.
Programme cover of the Gilbert and Sullivan operaRuddigore, performed March 9 – 12, 1938, at the Saint-Lambert High School Auditorium.
The Society had three objectives: to spread the knowledge and appreciation of music, to promote local talent, and to raise funds for charitable works. Concerts were given in part for the benefit of the Saint-Lambert’s Soldiers’ Memorial, the Kiwanis Club of Montréal, and the Lions Club of Saint-Lambert.
During this time in Saint-Lambert…
- In 1957, the Tuesday Musical Club subsidized the first Saint-Lambert Music Festival for the town’s centennial. It was Quebec’s first bilingual music competition. The festival was made possible with financial support from the Town of Saint-Lambert, the Quebec Minister of Cultural Affairs, local merchants, private gifts, and donations from associations, schools, and churches, as well as the work of a large team of volunteers; the festival would eventually become an annual event.
By 1960, as production costs became increasingly prohibitive, the Society decided to abandon its costly sets and decors, and concentrate solely on choral music.
The chorale began to move toward a more classical repertoire, consisting largely of masses and oratorios. In 1971, the Saint-Lambert Choral Society reverted back to its original name. Over the years, it had been led by a number of choirmasters, including Dr Percy Illsley (1920-1925), M. H. Norris (1931-1941), Mr. Jerry Shea (1946-1954), Mr. Eric Adams (1958-1963), Mr. Richard McGlaughlin (1964-1969), and, last but not least, David Christiani (1978-2014).
Title page of Claude Gingras’ glowing review in La Presse of the Saint-Lambert Choral Society’s concert on March 12, 1988. The program consisted of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem and John Rutter’s Requiem.
During this time in Saint-Lambert…
- In 1970, a new musical tradition took root. Mrs. Edith Strathdee, organist and choir director at the United Church of Saint-Lambert, created The Gift of Music, an annual concert presented by assembled choirs of several Saint-Lambert churches. Each December, the concert raises money and donations for Christmas baskets to be distributed to the poor of the various church parishes. The SLCS took part from the very beginning.
- Owing to rising costs and declining participation, the last Saint-Lambert Music Festival, first created in 1957, took place only in 1979.
David Christiani – Artistic Director and Choirmaster of the Saint-Lambert Choral Society for 35 years, from 1979 to 2014
Since he took over the podium 35 years ago, Christiani began creating an eclectic repertoire for the SLCS, drawing on baroque, classical, romantic, and contemporary works, spirituals, folk songs, and Christmas music. He instituted the tradition of three concerts per year, allowing the Choral Society to create a subscription-based season.
He exposed the choir to new talent by inviting distinguished guest directors, as well as various orchestral ensembles and soloists, to perform with the choir. The choir has sung under the celebrated batons of Elmer Iseler, Wayne Riddell, and Alexander Brott. It has been accompanied by I Musici Chamber Orchestra of Montréal, McGill Chamber Orchestra, Longueuil Symphony Orchestra, as well as musicians from the Montréal Symphony Orchestra and the Metropolitan Orchestra. A number of concerts have been in collaboration with other choirs, particularly with childrens’ choirs, such as the South Shore Children’s Chorus, for its annual Christmas concert.
The SLCS has performed in Montréal, Ottawa, Sherbrooke, Valleyfield, Joliette, and Iberville, and has participated in the ChaNteauguay and Lanaudière music festivals. The choir has been heard on CBC Radio’s French and English-language networks. These activities all bear witness to a time of great growth for the choir; between 1986 and 1990, under Christiani’s visionary leadership, the choir counted more than one hundred members.
The SLCS has created some important musical “firsts” under Christiani’s baton including the Montréal premiere of John Rutter’s Requiem (1988) and the Longueuil premiere of Michel Massé’s Requiem (1993). The choir celebrated Saint-Lambert’s 125th anniversary celebrations with a rousing performance of George Frederick Handel’s Messiahin 1982.
Over the years, SLCS concerts have generated funds for charities like the Cystic Fibrosis Society, Relay for Life, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and raised money to provide grants for young South Shore singers to pursue their musical studies.
For 35 years, David Christiani has directed the SLCS with passion, energy, and an unflagging commitment. In keeping with the Choral Society’s original mandate, he always strived to encourage and broaden the public’s interest in choral music and consistently raised the bar for the choir by proposing choral works that challenge the choristers to surpass themselves.
New conductor: Xavier Brossard-Ménard
Beginning with the 2015-2016 season, Xavier Brossard‐Ménard took over the musical direction of the Choral Society.
Xavier Brossard-Ménard – Conductor and Artistic director
Over the course of its long existence, the Saint-Lambert Choral Society has treated its choristers and the public to an eclectic choral repertoire, supported by a loyal, subscriber-based audience. Today, the Choral Society is still firmly anchored in Saint-Lambert’s and the South Shore’s cultural milieu, receiving generous support from local institutions and businesses; in turn, the chorale gives support back to community organizations. After all these years, the chorale continues to play a valuable role in enhancing Saint-Lambert’s quality of life.
Album-Souvenir du centenaire de St-Lambert, 1857-1957
CHARTRAND-COPTI, Huguette (sous direction de), Saint-Lambert au fil des ans 1857-2007, Société d’histoire Mouillepied, p. 203-208
HINDESS, Mary, Sounds of Music in St. Lambert, Société d’histoire Mouillepied, cahier no 5, janvier 1987, p. 9-14.
SEATH C., CARRUTHERS E. et THORP F. (sous la direction de), Sixty years of Songs 1919-1979, Société chorale de St-Lambert, 1979. (version révisée au 75e anniversaire) Texte révisé par C. Stockdale, C. Poulton et K. David, 1919-1994, 75 ans pour l’amour de la musique.
SOCIÉTÉ D’HISTOIRE MOUILLEPIED, Cahier no 10, Longueuil, 2013, p. 12-17
Différents programmes de la SCSL et entrevues avec des membres.