Jeff Joudrey is living the dream.
"I have the best job in the world. I'm paid to do what I love. When my feet hit the rehearsal floor, I'm jazzed. I'm really excited to meet the singers and I learn as well," says the founder and artistic director of the Halifax Camerata Singers.
"I still find it challenging and musically stimulating. I'm never bored."
The award-winning performance ensemble celebrates its 30th season this year with a program full of highlights including Halifax, 1917: From Dreams to Despair, a concert at Halifax Central Library on March 25 that features Rhapsody Quintet and actor Jeremy Webb and commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion.
"It chronicles the life of Halifax from New Year's Eve 1916 through Dec. 6, 1917. It was a very busy place musically at that time," says Joudrey. "There were many opera and oratorical societies, and a big church influence. With the war going on, the port was really busy. All the different narratives are woven into the program. There are war songs, patriotic songs, religious songs and we celebrate African-Nova Scotia heritage. It's a new commission by Nova Scotia composer Christopher Palmer and the text will tell the story of the explosion."
The season begins on Saturday, Nov. 5 at Saint Benedict's Parish, Halifax, with I Remember, a concert whose theme is "consolation and strength through remembering and a goal of peace through our children."
Joudrey says the choir enjoys doing the remembrance concerts "which allow us to connect with the community and pay tribute to people who have passed on in armed conflicts, who we want to remember."
The concert features the Symphony Nova Scotia Chorus and guest saxophonist Tristan de Borba, performing music by Jeff Enns, Mendelssohn, the late Srul Irving Glick and Timothy Corlis' In Paradisum, which Joudrey describes as "spectacular. Hauntingly beautiful. It weaves saxophone pieces around the choir."
"The acoustics at St. Benedict's are really lovely. The pieces were chosen because of the acoustics."
Joudrey, 62, lives in Truro and is director of music at Trinity-St. Stephen's United Church in Amherst. He grew up in Halifax, did a music degree at Acadia and went on to study at McGill University with organists John Grew and Raymond Daveluy.
"At the end of my degree at McGill, I realized the life of a concert organist was very lonely, spending five to six hours a day, alone, practising."
A intense two-week workshop with the Elmer Iseler Singers, a professional chamber choir in Toronto, was a watershed moment, and working with Wayne Riddell of Montreal's Tudor Singers convinced Joudrey that he had a passion for working with choirs and people.
He founded Halifax Camerata Singers, an auditioned choir, in 1986.
"Ron Wallace, who was then mayor, gave us rehearsal space and got the grand piano for city hall. We gave our first concert in February of that year in city hall."
Known as one of Atlantic Canada's premier chamber choirs, Halifax Camerata Singers began with 20 members and has had anywhere from 24 to 28 men and women over the years, depending on the repertoire, a number which Joudrey describes as "small and manageable."
The Halifax Camerata Singers, numbering 26 this year, is also the core choir of the 70- to 80-member Symphony Nova Scotia Chorus, of which Joudrey is chorus master.
Winners of the Healey Willan Grand Prize in the 2010 National Competition for Canadian Amateur Choirs, the choir has released five CDs, including its latest, A Time For All Things, which won the Music Nova Scotia award for classical recording of the year on Nov. 6 in Truro.
Joudrey says his group regularly commissions work from young composers.
"For the Canadian choral community to grow and flourish, we need to be supportive of young composers, conductors and singers. It's one of the things Camerata does that sets us apart."
An in-demand guest conductor and choral clinician, Joudrey is particularly proud of the group's invitation to sing at Podium 2014 in Halifax as well as Festival 500 in St. John's, N.L.
"Any time we go away is a chance to share our music. It gets us out of our bubble to see what the the rest of the world is doing," he says, noting the singers are not professionals and are committed to their jobs and families so travelling is limited.
He is eagerly anticipating the choir's season-ending trip to the first Edmonton International Choral Festival, June 1 to 4. The choir has been invited to perform on its own and collaborate with Pro Coro Canada and to work with the 17-voice Swedish choir, Voces Nordicae.
"It's intimidating, but for professional development it's huge."
The Camerata Singers worked with Pro Coro Canada during the 2014 Podium conference.
"We did repertoire with our 20-odd singers and the wonderful 40-voice choir," he says.
Other concerts in Camerata's 2016-2017 season include:
- Solstice, Dec. 3 at First Baptist Church, Halifax. The choir performs with guest soprano Nicole Jordan in the concert for the solstice and advent seasons. Originally from Nova Scotia, Jordan, who has sung with the Nova Scotia Youth Choir and the National Youth Honour Choir, is now based in the Netherlands.
- Handel's Messiah, Dec. 22 and 23, Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. With Aline Kutan, soprano, Wallis Giunta, mezzo-soprano, Michael Colvin, tenor and Gregory Dahl, baritone.
- Let Our Spirits Soar — the Voices of Our Past, May 28, First Baptist Church, Halifax The choir collaborates with rising star Prince Edward Island young women’s ensemble Sirens, which highlights the history of Halifax and includes repertoire from various culture, including a new work by composer Jeff Enns on Mi’kmaq poet Rita Joe’s poem, I Lost My Talk. The concert will also be performed in Charlottetown.