Revv52 invites audiences to enjoy a high-energy experience

revv52-calgary-tbWhen Jacqui Shand invites people to see her choir, she is careful not to use the word "concert."

"I call it a show," Shand says. "Because a concert tends to make people think that that it's singers standing there sedately with their hymn books in their hands.

"We are not that, by any means."

With 50 singers from all walks of life who perform with a full band, Revv52 represents a unique — and longstanding — presence on the Calgary arts scene.

Formed in 1952 as the Calgary Choral Society, Revv52 has gradually transformed from a traditional choir to a musical ensemble group that is anything but conventional.

Lisa Rouleau, a group member for the past five years, calls Revv52 "a whole performance piece."

Evolution of musical interests

Few have better insight into how the group has evolved than Shand, who has been a member for 37 years. When she joined, she was its youngest member.

"I have been here longer than anybody else," she says.

The Calgary Choral Society initially had a focused repertoire.

"We only did classics like Handel's Messiah and Vivaldi's Gloria," says Shand. "It's wonderful to sing those old classic works, but I was ready for a change.

Later, when the group was looking for a new musical director Shand suggested Brian Farrell, a prominent local vocal coach.

"Brian said he would be willing to come and work with us if we were ready to grow," Shand says. "And in no time, he led us down a different path of doing all kinds of music."

Now in his 17th year with Revv52, Farrell has been the group's longest serving artistic director.

Rebranding of group

With the group singing everything from gospel to Celtic to pop music under Farrell's tutelage, it became clear that another change was in order.

Shannon Stannard, current president of Revv52's board of directors and herself a member of the group, says there was a sense that the name Calgary Choral Society no longer represented the type of music the group was performing.

"It was a very formal and traditional name," Stannard says, "we wanted to come up with something that was a little more modern to reflect the fact that we were moving away from being a traditional choir to more of a vocal ensemble group."

The new name that was eventually chosen — Revv52 — fit for a number of reasons.

"With 'rev' we were thinking about 'revolution' and 'revving people up.' The '52' came from 1952 to represent our history," Stannard says.

"When people see Revv52 on a poster they are not expecting classical music now, but rather fun rock and roll or jazz or whatever we are doing," Shand says.

"Our motto used to be 'expect the unexpected' and that still is true."

Eclectic composition

Since its founding, the group has been a mixed choir with the ages of its singers ranging from 22 to 71 years old.

"There are two or three members who are professionals singers, but most are just people who love to sing," Stannard says. "It is a group of people who wouldn't necessarily know each other in any other part of their lives because we come from all different socio-economic and professional backgrounds.

"But the group feels like a family."

Shand agrees. "We are an amazingly connected group. It's not like any other that I have sung with. We all look out for each other. There are no egos. We support each other to the fullest."

Commitment comes from love of music

Concerts are held twice annually, and the group also does guest performances throughout the year. The group has regular rehearsals, and as concert dates approach, several full-day Saturday sessions.

"It's a volunteer organization, so the hours that everybody puts in are purely out of love," Stannard says.

 revv52-calgary-fbFull house: Revv52, shown performing here at Grace Presbyterian Church, often sell out their shows.


Photo courtesy of Lisa Rouleau
Members perform without having the lyrics and music in front of them—something known as singing "off-book."

"A lot of traditional choirs do have music with them, so getting off-book is really a personal commitment to being able to learn the music on your own," Stannard says. "When we do rehearse, we are really coming together and able to perfect the music rather than working on learning the notes."

Focused on the future

As the group looks towards its next set of concerts — slated to have a British theme — Stannard says Revv52 will continue to provide its audiences with innovative and high-energy performances.

Farrell also has an eye on Revv52 touring outside of Calgary.

"We would really like to get out there for the country to see more of what we do," Farrell says.

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