A Vancouver-based chamber ensemble under the direction of its founder and Gibsons resident David Poon presented nearly 500 years of sacred choral music during a performance at St. Hilda’s Anglican Church in Sechelt on January 3.
The MOTET choir was founded in 2014 by Poon. The band has performed their “Twelve Days of Christmas” concert at venues across Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast every year, except for one cancellation last year due to COVID-19.
After accompanying the entrance procession of singers on the pipe organ, Poon joined the singers on stage. The eight-member choir sang without its full complement due to the illness of several singers.
“Omicron plus snow has done us a lot of good this year,” Poon said, “but we learned the music and we wanted to sing it. Really, it is a pleasure to sing this music.
“I’m a little biased because I chose everything.”
The program featured a mix of unaccompanied Gregorian chant and familiar seasonal songs with ancient European roots.
Poon assembled the group of singers among his friends and other choirs he accompanies or directs. MOTET differs from his day-to-day responsibilities as assistant director of music at St. John’s Anglican Church in Vancouver. The ensemble is, Poon explains, “project-based” – its members meet several times a year to prepare performances steeped in the history and liturgy of Catholic tradition.
The arrangement of musical numbers reflected the custom of a 12-day festival beginning on Christmas Day. “Some of it isn’t strictly Christmas music, but I think it should be,” said Poon, who introduced each piece with a brief historical background.
The dozen pieces performed by the choir are inspired by characters and events in the history of the Christian Church. A sung text to commemorate the birth of Jesus – “Corede natus ex parentis” – was written more than a century before the fall of the Roman Empire by the poet Aurelius Predentius, on a melody from the Middle Ages.
A contemporary arrangement of “The Huron Carol” by Canadian composer Sarah MacDonald has been paired with a translation by David Poon himself of the original text by Jean de Brébeuf. The conventional English version, Poon said, “is a bit romantic, a bit awkward, a hodgepodge” of different Indigenous cultures.
In MacDonald’s arrangement, the sopranos sing bird intervals over the solemn melody carried by the male singers, echoing the soaring descants of Gregorian chant while adding naturalistic color.
“Some things last,” Poon said in an interview with the Coast Reporter as her backing singers swapped their modest black uniforms for winter jackets and scarves. “But the world is changing. And so we have old lyrics set to new melodies, and they’re just as wonderful. We’re embracing the things that have held firm, but we’re also adapting things to the current day.
MOTET will return to the Sunshine Coast in early April for their performance of ‘The Rosary Project’ at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Gibsons. The concert will feature music for peaceful meditation.