Daniel Lapp chuckles when he thinks back to the origins of the Joy of Life Choir.
It was 24 years ago when members of the Fairfield United Church choir looking to branch into gospel music gathered together under the wing of enthusiastic congregation member Lloyd Duhaime. At the time, busy musician Lapp, who had been directing the church’s choir, was unable to take on yet another project and declined the invitation to oversee the new group.
“Lloyd was gleefully ignorant and naive, but he helped direct the choir,” Lapp says of the lovable Duhaime, who sadly passed away in 2016.
“During that first year I happened to go to Memphis on tour and I lucked into going out and attending one of Rev. Al Green’s rural church services,” he continues. “That experience blew my mind and I came back and agreed to direct the choir, which became the Joy of Life choir. We’ve always had gospel roots, but the music has changed over the years.”
Today’s version of the choir will play a central role in the Joy of Life Festival, a Victoria Conservatory of Music-presented event that features two separate concerts: The Joy of Fiddle on May 3, and The Joy of Song on May 4, both at the Alix Goolden Performance Hall.
The theme for this year’s festival is Canadian women composers, a group that could use more recognition locally, Lapp says.
“Canadian women songwriters have a real identity and they are celebrated across the world for it,” he says. “I wanted to introduce people to the music of other composers who you may not know of. I wanted to celebrate the tunesmiths who gave us these gifts.”
Joy of Fiddle features a celebration of the Lapp-directed B.C. Fiddle Orchestra’s 25th anniversary.
Special guest performer on the night is Stephanie Cadman, known in music circles as a quadruple-threat for her ability to combine fiddling, dancing, singing at a high level as well as acting. “As well as being one of finest fiddlers in Canada, she is the best step dancer and tap dancer out there,” Lapp says.
The evening will pay tribute to the longstanding tradition of fiddling in B.C. and the rest of Canada, he adds. “We have over 100 years of tradition in B.C. of fiddlers playing together. Part of the tradition is the community aspect of it, not only through house parties,but in people playing dances for their community.”
On the Saturday, the Joy of Life Choir will sing arrangements of compositions written by such notable Canadians as Connie Kaldor, Rita McNeil, Feist, Joni Mitchell, Kate McGarrigle, Shari Ulrich, Lorena McKennit and others.
Joining them on the night will be boogie-woogie, jump and blues pianist David Vest, who will also tip his musical cap to women songwriters.
Many of the songs sung by the choir will feature multi-part harmonies that help bring out the richness of the music, Lapp says.
“My goal is to create a Canadian songbook of iconic Canadian songs and arrange them with two- and three-part harmonies,” he says. On a trip to Iceland he discovered that children learn iconic Icelandic folk songs in school, and not just the melody, but the harmony parts.
“So all through adulthood when Icelanders get together at a pub or anywhere, they sing these beautiful three-part harmonies; it was so inspiring and exciting.”
For more information or to purchase tickets online, visit vcm.bc.ca/events/joy-of-life-2019/ or call 250-386-5311 or stop by the Conservatory office at 900 Johnson St.