Skip to content

South Surrey, Langley concerts strike a musical note of remembrance

The First Capital Chorus makes welcome return with ‘It’s Been A Long, Long Time’
The First Capital Chorus’ most recent Remembrance show, in 2019, highlighted the 75th anniversary of D-Day. File photo

For all his brilliance, physicist Erwin Schrodinger knew there were things in human experience that scientific theory could not explain or quantify.

In his lecture series Science and Humanism, he observed: “science cannot tell us a word about why music delights us, of why and how an old song can move us to tears.”

The ability of music to trigger emotion is one of the reasons it is at the core of ceremonies of Remembrance – the tributes we offer on or around Nov. 11 to those who served in the armed forces of Canada or its allies in two world wars and other significant conflicts, including the Korean war.

Meditating on those who sacrificed much for our continuing freedoms – up to, and often including, their own lives – is about more than standing to attention at a cenotaph. Often a simple old song from the war years can encapsulate what we struggle to put into words.

And nobody understands that better than close harmony (formerly referred to as ‘barbershop’ harmony) vocal ensemble the Langley First Capital Chorus, who annually present a musical tribute that recognizes both the courage and the humanity of the generations who served.

“There have been many who’ve told us that our afternoon show is their Remembrance Day, now,” said chorus member Derek Sanft.

“There are a lot of people in their 70s, 80s and 90s who don’t go to the cenotaph any more – we’re their ceremony,” he said.

The chorus, around for more than 50 years and drawing many members from Surrey and the Semiahmoo Peninsula, makes a welcome return this year with It’s Been a Long, Long Time – a Remembrance Day Musical Tribute.

The concert will be presented at two venues this year – on Thursday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. at Willoughby Christian Reformed Church (20525 72 Ave., Langley) and on Saturday, Nov. 11 at 2 p.m. at St. Mark’s Anglican Church (12953 20 Ave., South Surrey).

Longtime audience members will recognize many familiar numbers from both world wars such as It’s A Long Way To Tipperary, Pack Up Your Troubles, Sentimental Journey, I’ll Be Seeing You, Lili Marlene, The White Cliffs of Dover and We’ll Meet Again – songs that still evoke the spirit of generations of young men and women who went away to serve, and memories of those who never returned.

Featuring the renowned creativity and versatility of special guests the Langley Ukulele Ensemble, directed by Paul Luongo, the concert will also turn the spotlight on a First Capital group within the group, the octet Memory Lane, and guest quartet Synchromesh.

The title of the concert is an apt one – the song by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn (“kiss me once and kiss me twice and kiss me, once again…it’s been a long, long time”) was a major hit in 1945 for such artists as Harry James and Bing Crosby and captures a moment in time when Allied service members, and their loved ones, could scarcely believe they were being reunited after years of war.

It has an added meaning for this show, which is the first Remembrance Day concert for First Capital Chorus since the COVID-19 pandemic emergency was declared in early 2020.

“When we were discussing the show that song came back to me,” said long-time chorus member Denny O’Donovan, whose moving rendition of O Danny Boy (Londonderry Air) has been a perennial favourite in the Remembrance programs.

“I thought it would be a good title number – since we haven’t done the show since 2019,” he said.

Members have not been idle since pandemic restrictions were lifted – they’ve been busy rehearsing and getting back up to speed under the guidance of the chorus’ new director Tiffany Chen, who holds a masters degree in conducting from UBC.

Currently a member of the Vancouver Cantata Singers, she was co-director of the UBC Chamber Choir and Vox (UBC Men’s Choir) from 2018 to 2020 and brings a wealth of knowledge of classical choral technique with her.

While time, circumstance and natural attrition has reduced the numbers of First Capital singers from around 40, pre-pandemic, to around 25, O’Donivan and Sanft say the group, which now includes three female singers, is soldiering on into a new era.

First Capital’s decision to switch from a male chorus to a mixed chorus, in 2018, formalized what an inclusion of female associate singers for performances over the years.

Sanft notes that it has meant some changes in the timbre of sound, and some dynamic adjustments to avoid the strength of female ‘tenors’ overpowering the other voice parts.

But both O’Donovan and Sanft say the choir is going from strength to strength with what Chen has brought to the table.

“She’s wonderful – everybody loves her,” O’Donovan enthused.

“They watch her closely, too. I must admit that, over the years, we had a habit of not paying enough attention to our directors.”

“We’re definitely paying attention to what she is telling us,” Sanft added.

“She directs us in a different style than we were used to.

“She’s not a ‘barbershopper’ – although we’re teaching her to be one,” he laughed.

“But she’s also teaching us to sing in a different way.”

Tickets ($25) are available online through—surrey/langley-first-capital-chorus/ or at Pelican Rouge Cafe, 15142 North Bluff Rd. (Complimentary admission for veterans and peacekeepers).

About the Author: Alex Browne

Read more